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Klein's Models Collect Dust

Writing for Wired, Joshua Batson describes the nineteenth-century 3-D models on display in an MIT gallery.

The models, fabricated in the Göttingen laboratory of Felix Klein, were, Batson explains, "part of a program to make algebra palpable," an attempt to keep mathematics anchored in the physical world. "It’s one thing to check that the derivatives of a function are zero and another to feel the plaster taper to a sharp point," Batson writes.

It’s one thing to prove that a surface contains a bunch of straight lines. It’s another to build the surface out of those lines, sweeping it out with taut strings. It’s one thing to know that a function blows up at a point like the electric potential produced by a perfect charge, and another to see negative infinity carved as a pit in plaster.

Read more (and view a gallery of the models).

Start Date: 
Monday, July 28, 2014