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New at the Franklin Institute: ‘A Mirror Maze’ Shows the Math in Nature’s Patterns

Explore the 1,700-square-foot maze at this exhibit, which runs through Labor Day.

The Franklin Institute’s newest special exhibition, “A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature,” opens Saturday, just in time to plan a Memorial Day weekend trip to the museum. The exhibit was designed to explore mathematical patterns in nature, human bodies, and art — like the patterns of blood vessels in eyes or ridges of a mountain range.


“It’s a great exhibit about math, the way that it presents itself in nature, in our bodies, and how we apply it in design and architecture,” said Liz Wangenheim, the Franklin Institute’s assistant director of exhibit services, in a behind-the-scenes video.


The highlight of the exhibit is its namesake: the 1,700-square-foot mirror maze. Visitors will try to find their way through the maze of floor-to-ceiling mirrors while answering questions and participating in activities about the repetition and symmetry in the maze. The maze includes multiple dead ends, and visitors may find a small, secret room filled with more puzzles and artifacts — like bighorn sheep antlers and honeycomb.


“Of course there’s the really neat 1,700-square-foot mirror maze in the middle of it that’s really easy to get lost in and just explore,” Wangenheim said.


But the exhibit also features a film, more than a dozen activities, and 30 mathematical artifacts both in and around the maze.


The introductory film introduces visitors to the ways math surrounds them and affects their daily lives. The film gives examples of common patterns in nature and why they exist using superimposed graphics over photographs of natural patterns. Then, an interactive area allows guests to use their new knowledge to identify patterns in snowflakes, flowers, and seashells and make their own patterns.


The activities in the exhibit are categorized into three groups: Patterns in Nature, Patterns in Yourself, and Patterns in Music, Art, and Architecture. Activities range from observing symmetry in human faces to creating music with a harp.


The exhibit was developed by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and Wangenheim said the Franklin Institute is the first museum to host it as a traveling exhibition.


“A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature” will be in the Mandell Center at the Franklin Institute from May 27 through September 4.


The exhibit is open every day from 9:30 am through 5 pm. For members of the Franklin Institute, tickets cost $5 for adults and $4 for children ages 3 through 18. General admission tickets cost $25 for adults and $21 for children ages 3 through 11. Tickets include general admission to the rest of the museum.


Photograph by J.B. Spector for the Museum of Science and Industry, courtesy of the Franklin Institute. 




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