Math goes the distance: Raytheon’s MathAlive! opens in Boston, Mass. and Saudi Arabia


Raytheon’s globe-trotting math and science exhibition, an interactive showcase with the excitement and energy of an arcade, opened in Boston and Saudi Arabia last week – a dual celebration that shows the company’s commitment to teaching young people how math and science drive their everyday lives. 

“Our research has shown that young students become more interested in math and science when they can relate it to a subject about which they are passionate,” Raytheon Chairman William H. Swanson said to a crowd of guests and excited middle-school students at the May 29, 2014, VIP premiere opening of MathAlive! at the Museum of Science, Boston.  “The exhibit engages them on their terms by bringing to life the math behind many of the things they love including video games, sports, fashion, music, robotics and more.”

MathAlive! uses interactive stations to explain how math and science power the sports and pop culture that students love. Using video-game-style simulation, it teaches, for example, that efficient use of angles helps a snowboarder speed through a run, that the spacing of wheels on a skateboard affects the rider’s ability to perform tricks, and that the rhythms of pop and dance hits are really just fractions applied to music.

“Raytheon is committed to helping students globally create a lifelong relationship with math and science – one that will open up a whole world of opportunities for a bright future,” Swanson said. “With science, technology, engineering and math as key drivers of the global economy, exhibits like MathAlive! are essential to not only inspiring and exciting students, but also to encouraging the next generation of STEM-capable workers.”

The Middle East version presents information in English and Modern Standard Arabic. It celebrates the achievements of Gulf region mathematicians and others whose careers use science, technology engineering and math. Its interactive activities work within the cultural context of familiar Middle Eastern imagery, landmarks, customs and language.

“This exhibition [brings] math alive in its truest sense,” said Manal Ataya, director general of the Sharjah Museums Department, where the exhibition appeared in December. “It allows children to see what math is, understand concepts and find it fun.”

Students at the Boston opening flocked to MathAlive’s dozens of attractions.

“I like how it teaches you stuff while you’re actually having fun, and you’re enjoying your time,” said Jack Bergin, 13, who attended the opening with a group of classmates from the O’Maley Innovation Middle School in Gloucester, Mass. “I learned how much speed you have to have to do bike tricks, snowboarding tricks. Math is fun and you should really embrace it."

Among the most popular activities was Style Revolution, an in-the-round photo booth that uses a series of cameras to produce a 360-degree image of its subject, then sends those images to a touchscreen for the user to see.

“Once you do it and you see the pictures spinning in 360 … you really don’t realize how much math is in, like, for you to use your iPhone screen or when you type on a computer,” said Iza Julie Marques, 12, also a student at the O’Maley Innovation Middle School. “I thought it was really cool.”

Swanson and museum President Ioannis Miaoulis were joined at the Boston opening by a host of special guests including Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Brian Fitzgerald, chief executive officer of the Business-Higher Education Forum.

“The MathAlive! exhibit is an outstanding example of connecting the academics, through relevance, to the students’ understanding of the mathematics,” Chester said.  “And that is absolutely the key to students embracing and pursuing careers in math engineering, science, technology and medicine.”

The exhibit on display in Boston debuted in 2012 at the Smithsonian Institution’s S. Dillon Ripley Center in Washington, D.C., and continues on its multi-year tour to science centers and museums in the United States and across the world.

It opened May 28 at Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Science and Technology Center (Scitech) in Al Kohbar, where it is presented in English and Arabic. The exhibition’s Gulf Region journey began at the Abu Dhabi Science Festival in November 2013. Later this summer, MathAlive! will open at the Kuwait Scientific Center before heading to other locations including Oman.

MathAlive! runs at the Museum of Science in Boston through Sept. 1, 2014. The Saudi Arabia exhibit runs through June 21, 2014.