The professed aim of “A Mirror Maze: Numbers In Nature”—the new exhibit on view at Boston’s Museum of Science through April 25—is to highlights mathematical patterns in the natural world: spirals (ferns, human ears), fractals (ant hills, human lungs), and Voroni patterns (corn kernels, honeycombs for strong, efficient packing).
Which is all very interesting. But the real reason you need to go is to explore the 1,700-square-foot hall of mirrors. The ‘Mirror Maze” is built on a repeating grid of triangles under the arches of stylized trees. “Dead ends are scattered throughout,” the museum explains, “and a small secret room is hidden within, rewarding you with bonus puzzles and artifacts.” Magically appearing on and in the mirrors are diagrams of snowflakes and M.C. Escher tessellations and hidden vitrines of cubes and patterned ceramics.
“It’s very easy,” the 8-year-old says of the maze.
“I kept thinking I saw the end, but I kept bumping into mirrors,” the 5-year-old says.
“If you keep following the left wall, you find the secret room,” the 8-year-old says.
We toured the maze twice. Waits to get in—even on the busy Saturday we visited—were only about five minutes long.
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Then there are all sorts of displays and hands-on activities about mathematics, patterns and geometry in nature. You can fiddle with dials to see how fractal patterns are used to make computer-generated landscapes in movies. You can play with musical scales and pluck a harp to learn how Bach and other composers used symmetry in their musical compositions.
Created by Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, displays compare the fractal branching patterns of bronchial trees in human lungs (to maximizes air exchange as you breathe) to sea fans (to capture most light and food). A case highlights the symmetry in the patterns of actual beetles and butterflies.
You can see how the outer edge of bighorn sheep horns grow more quickly than the inner edge causing them to bend into spirals. And an aluminum casting of an anthill by Alabama farmer-turned-sculptor David Gatlin shows how “The fractal branching of the anthill maximizes total tunnel length within a relatively small area.”