After Dark: Figuring

Thursday, September 3, 2015 • 6:00–10:00 p.m.
Exploratorium, Pier 15
$15 General; $10 Members; Free for Lab Members
Adults Only (18+)

Note: A ticket to Thursday evening adult-only hours does not guarantee admission to special programs with limited seating. Tickets for limited-capacity programs will be made available to visitors on a first-come, first-served basis.

If one proves the equality of two numbers a and b by showing first that “a is less than or equal to b” and then “a is greater than or equal to b,” it is unfair. One should instead show that they are really equal by disclosing the inner ground for their equality.” —Emmy Noether1

Math is the language, tool, and way of thinking that we all use—sometimes without even realizing it—to study quantity, structure, relationships between things, pattern, and change. Before Euler came along and invented all the notations we think of as mathematical symbols, math was mostly done with words and, occasionally, pictures. At the Exploratorium, we mostly do math with exhibits—and we’re always inventing new ones. Tonight, we’ll roll out some of our newest, showing you math isn’t all like that high school algebra class. In doing so, we’ll show you some of the simplicity, beauty, and elegance that inspire your mathematically inclined friends and reveal some surprising ways that you can see mathematics everywhere.

1“The connection between symmetries and conservation laws is one of the great discoveries of twentieth-century physics. But I think very few nonexperts will have heard either of it or its maker, Emily Noether, a great German mathematician. But it is as essential to twentieth-century physics as famous ideas like the impossibility of exceeding the speed of light.

It is not difficult to teach Noether's theorem, as it is called; there is a beautiful and intuitive idea behind it. I've explained it every time I've taught introductory physics. But no textbook at this level mentions it. And without it one does not really understand why the world is such that riding a bicycle is safe.”—Lee Smolen

Download Program (pdf)



Dancing Mathematics
With Antara Bhardwaj
7:30 and 9:00 p.m. | Bay Observatory Gallery
How is the equation 3x + 2y = z  relevant to the dance floor? How do you divide 16 into 3 equal parts—and then dance it? Indian classical dancer, choreographer, and teacher Antara Bhardwaj reveals the inherent mathematics in Hindustani music through the instrument of dance. Wearing three pounds of ankle bells, her feet move in complex rhythmic patterns and permutations at speeds of up to 12 slaps per second.

Noether's Theorem
With Paul Stepahin
8:00 p.m. | Phyllis C. Wattis Webcast Studio
Emmy Noether (1882–1935) was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century. Her insights changed our understanding of the most basic laws of nature, laid the foundation for the future of particle physics, and rescued Einstein's theory of general relativity. Yet despite all this, she couldn't get a job. Join Exploratorium exhibit developer Paul Stepahin for a brisk introduction to Noether's famous theorem, and find out how she overcame academic prejudice against women in mathematics.

Hacking OkCupid
With Chris McKinlay
8:30 p.m. | Kanbar Forum
In the summer of 2012, Chris McKinlay famously used a variety of machine-learning techniques to reverse-engineer the dating website OkCupid, eventually becoming the most popular of its 7 million male profiles. Explore the computational aspects of creating such a concentration of information—and the social repercussions.

Soft Column
By Scott Hove
6:00–10:00 p.m. | East Gallery
The design of this massive rope sculpture is based on traditional sailors knots presented in an unconventional, fine-arts context. Constructed with five, 30-feet lengths of rope, Soft Column features decorative knots such as the star knot, Matthew Walker knot, and snaked whippings built over a core of four-inch mooring line.



Calculating in the Dark: New Exhibit Prototypes
With Paul Stepahin, Tom Tompkins, and Erik Thogersen
6:30–9:30 | West Gallery, Black Box
Have you ever used a string to do multiplication?  A metal ball to find a square root?   Join Exploratorium exhibit developers Paul Stepahin, Tom Tompkins, and Erik Thogersen to play with exhibit prototypes involving new and creative ways to figure.

Polyhedra Party!
With  Stacy Speyer and Tinkering Studio Staff        
6:30–9:30 p.m. | South Gallery, Tinkering Studio
Fold 2-D geometric designs, called nets, into fascinating 3-D shapes called polyhedra. Choose from a variety of nets for small and simple or larger and more complex polyhedra, and then color, cut, fold, and tape your way to snazzy forms.

Hexahexaflexagons and Möbius Strips
With Explorables
7:00–10:00 p.m. | Central Gallery
Hexahexaflexagons: Fold and flex these odd geometric objects to reveal hidden faces and images.
Möbius Strips: Can you imagine a sheet of paper with only one side? Explore the strange surface of a Möbius strip.

Make an Octagon Star
6:30–9:30 p.m. | East Gallery
Using colorful origami paper, fold eight parallelograms to build an octagonal star that elegantly transforms into an octagonal ring.

Back to the Drawing Board
With the Explainers
6:00–9:30 p.m. | West Gallery
Explore physics and patterns with this oversized pendulum, and take home your own piece of mathematical art. Pick up a ticket at the Drawing Board to reserve your spot in line. (Make sure to stop by early—tickets are released at 6:00 p.m. and go fast.)



Abstract Thinking
6:00–10:00 p.m. Ongoing | West Gallery, Mind Cinema
Figuring can sometimes require cognitive acrobatics and leaps of the imagination.

Zea (1981, 5 min.) by Andre Leduc and Jean-Jacques Leduc
The object in question is up the audience's best guess. How quickly can you figure it out?

Experiment on Peripheral Vision (2008, 3 min.) by Adele Horne and Paul VanDeCarr
A straight-faced portrait of two subjects in deep concentration as they struggle to understand what they see from the corners of their eyes.

A Child's Metaphysics (2007, 5 min.) by Koji Yamamura
This animation contemplates complex concepts like language acquisition and acculturation, striking upon several memorable images of education (some hopeful, some not).

Look Around You: Maths (2002, 9 min.) by Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz
A twisted homage to classroom educational films, this math lesson requires critical thinking to parse the parody from the presentation.

Mathematical Shorts
6:00–10:00 p.m. Ongoing | West Gallery, Math Cinema
Mathematics is all around us, if we know how to look.

Beauty of Mathematics (2013, 2 min.) by Yann Peneill and Nicolas Lefaucheux

Symmetry (1961, 3 min.) by Charles and Ray Eames

Parabolas (etc.) (2009, 4 min.) by William Hoffman, presented by Radiolab

2n, A Story of the Power of Numbers (1961, 2 min.) by Charles and Ray Eames


While all of our exhibits lend themselves to figuring, ​our collection of​ exhibits​ about math​ invite curiosity and insight into the mathematics underlying everyday phenomena. ​Ply a parabola as a calculator, explore symmetry with your face, and dig deeper into shapes, numbers, and patterns.

West Gallery
3-D Shapes
Bouncing Ball
Catenary Arch
Chasing The Odds
Gravity-Powered Calculator
Hyperbolic Slot
Inverse Square Law
Judging the Odds
Pi Toss
Slice of Light
Sooner or Later
Space Filling Blocks
Square Wheel
String Hyperboloid
Take it from the Top
Tiling Table
Water Spinner

Central Gallery Corridor

East Gallery
Population Cycles


Buying tickets in advance is strongly recommended; door sales are limited. Tickets for limited-capacity programs will be made available to visitors on a first-come, first-served basis.

Experience life After Dark, an evening series exclusively for adults that mixes cocktails, conversation, and playful, innovative science and art events.

Not a theater, cabaret, or gallery, After Dark contains aspects of all three. Each evening showcases a different topic—from music to sex to electricity—but all include a cash bar and film screenings, plus an opportunity to play with our hundreds of hands-on exhibits. Join us and mingle with inventive scientists, artists, musicians, programmers, and designers. Enjoy live performances, provocative films, interesting music, cutting-edge technology, unexpected extravaganzas, and more, depending on each evening's lineup. And all night long, delicious nibbles and outrageous bay views are available at the SeaGlass restaurant. Leave the kids at home and meet friends or take a date. Where else can you find an intellectually stimulating playground for adults?

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