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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

8 Vacation Destinations for the Mathematician

It’s been a long, hard Winter for the Center of Math. From record snowfall totals to Spring days that just can’t make it to feeling “warm,” we’ve got cabin fever and we’re craving Summer. So we put together this list of our top eight vacation destinations for mathematicians.

Westminster Abbey
London, England: If you’re in the UK, you know there’s a lot of math history around you. We suggest a visit to Westminster Abbey, where you can see the final resting place of Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest mathematicians and scientists of all time. If you’re able to venture a bit outside of the city, go to visit Bletchley Park. This museum is located at the site of the Government Code and Cypher School where Allied forces worked to decipher military codes of the German, Japanese, and other Axis nations. The codebreakers working here, including Alan Turing, created the technology that made modern computers possible.

Cambridge, Massachusetts: This is the home of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cambridge is perhaps the most important modern hub of mathematical research and learning. The MIT museum is located here, where visitors can view exhibitions on artificial intelligence, the evolution of ship design, and sculptures with unique engineering design elements. And did we mention that Cambridge is also home to the Worldwide Center of Mathematics?
El Castillo at Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza, Mexico: Aside from being a great destination because of its proximity to beautiful beach resorts on the Yucatan coast, Chichen Itza is interesting because it is one of the best examples of Mayan mathematics in architecture that remains standing. The great pyramid structure at the center of the site is known as El Castillo. It (and the other structures of the city) was built based on an astrological system. El Castillo has exactly 365 steps from the base to the top platform, one for each day of the year. The Mayan mathematicians and architects even knew how to precisely position the pyramid so that a seemingly magical event can occur twice a year. On the Spring and Fall equinoxes, the pyramid’s eastern edge will cast a shadow on the north staircase that causes 7 isosceles triangles to form in the body of a serpent. The shadow creates a line from the top of the staircase to the bottom, where the snake’s body joins a serpent head carved in stone.

Alexandria, Egypt: This city is most famous for the ancient Great Library, which did not survive to modern times. But at its founding (by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE), Alexandria became the seat of the Egyptian throne and grew to be second only to Rome in terms of great cities of the Hellenistic world. Many wildly important mathematicians considered Alexandria their home, including Euclid an Diophantus. Hypatia, the first recorded female mathematician, was the head of the Neoplatonic school in Alexandria, where she taught mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy to her students. Others still, including Archimedes, were educated in Alexandria. While ancient mathematical sites have been lost, a visit to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina would be well worth your time. It is constructed near the site of the ancient library of Alexandria, and contains thousands of historical texts as well as art exhibits.
The Seven Bridges of Konigsberg

Königsberg: We did a Throwback Fact many moons ago on the Seven Bridges of Königsberg, and you can visit for yourself. The city was renamed and gained new owners after World War 2, and the city is now known as Russia's Kaliningrad. Though we know there is no mathematical way to do it, you can attempt to cross each of the city’s bridges exactly one time on a walk!

Syracuse, Sicily: The birthplace and home of Archimedes, this island city is a fascinating place to visit even two millennia after the great mathematician and engineer’s death. The Arkimedeion, a new museum dedicated to the inventions of Archimedes, opened its doors in 2011. There are recreations of dozens of his machines, and many are interactive for visitors. You can even learn about the famous death ray, a set of mirrors that were supposedly calibrated to set the Roman Navy’s ships on fire.

Athens, Greece: One of the most relevant sites for a mathematician to visit in this city is the Parthenon. This ruin on the top of the Athenian Acropolis was once a temple dedicated to Athena. We do not have any blueprints or plans of the original builders, but it is believed that the original architects designed many aspects of the temple around the Golden Ratio. For example, the front fact of the Parthenon has a width and height (including the original roof peak) with a ratio of 1.618:1.
Sagrada Familia Cathedral

Barcelona, Spain: Any tourist, mathematician or otherwise, traveling through Barcelona should make a point to visit the Sagrada Familia. This project was started in the late 1800s by architect Antoni Gaudí, and it is still being constructed. The estimated completion date is 2029! Walking around and inside the incomplete cathedral is a study in 3D surfaces- Gaudí appears to have had a problem with straight lines. Instead, his architecture uses parabolas, hyperboloids, and any other conic curves one can build out of stone. There are mathematical Easter Eggs built in all over the cathedral- there is even a magic square carved into one of the facades.

It's importan to list our honorable mentions as well- we'd also love to visit Dublin, Ireland where Hamilton discovered the quaternions; the Escher museum in the Hague; Pisa, Italy; the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo; and the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain.

What do you think of our list? Do you think we missed any critical sites of mathematical importance? Let us know your plans or wishes for a math-themed vacation in the comments.

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