Maryland Science Center officials announced today that the museum has received a grant of $843,641 -- its largest single grant ever -- from the National Science Foundation to develop an "interactive" mathematics exhibit.
The exhibit, "Language of Patterns," will address the importance of understanding mathematics and the need for a greater interest in the subject, not just as a scientific tool but in everyday life.
Dr. Paul Hanle, the center's executive director, said only one Maryland high school graduate in 100 enters a career in mathematics, in part because it seems "dull and uninteresting."
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., whose appropriations subcommittee funds the NSF, said: "We are in a war for America's future. All of us must work together to make sure out country is prepared and able to lead the world in high technology research and markets."
Such informal programs as this one are important, she said, because "we know that some of the best learning occurs outside the classroom in hands-on activity."
The foundation's grant will cover most of the exhibit's $1.3 million cost. The exhibit will become a permanent part of the science center.
A major corporation tomorrow is to announce a $500,000 gift that will cover the rest, officials said.
Assisted by the mathematics department at George Washington University in Washington, the science center staff will begin work on the exhibit immediately.
The first displays are expected to appear next year. Some prototypes are expected to be ready for the public to view by this summer, said Raylene Decatur, programs and operations director.
"Language of Patterns" will be divided into two major areas, one more theoretical, the other practical and "hands-on," Ms. Decatur said.
The theoretical component will deal with such cutting-edge issues as chaos and fractal geometry.
"These are areas that are still open or areas that we're only beginning to investigate," she said.
"When you start looking at chaos, what you're really trying to do is to look at what has been perceived as unpredictable to see if underlying that there is a pattern that could be perceived as being predictable."
Computers have enabled mathematicians to do the multitude of calculations necessary to establish a possible pattern to such events.
"On other side, we've got a lot of 'low-tech,' interactive experiments," such as puzzles, brain teasers and 3-D problems "that are fun things to do and you don't really know you're doing math," she said.
The exhibit, aimed at all age groups, will be designed to allow visitors to use mathematical reasoning without being confused by complicated mathematical terminology.
The mathematics project will take three years to develop.
A duplicate traveling version will go on the road in the third year, becoming a featured exhibit in eight science museums each year during a nationwide run of about five years, Dr. Hanle said. Elements of the exhibit also will become part of the Science Center's traveling science program which visits Maryland schools each year.