Days 17 and 18: A Visit to Seattle

From Mount Rainier, we headed to Seattle with the intention of doing touristy things, and that’s exactly what we did. We visited Pike Place Market, went up the Space Needle, and rode the monorail. We also hit the Pacific Science Center, ate some sea food, and enjoyed the perpetually-moderate weather. I was feeling a litle guilty because I didn’t walk away with some significant idea or insight to share, but as I look back on it now there are actually a handful of things I need to revisit and follow up on, things that may become part of a class or at least conversation pieces for those moments when a class winds down a couple minutes before the bell rings.

One of the first things we did was visit the Chihuly Museum, which is conveniently located next to the Space Needle. I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed by the things he creates from glass. A few examples:


I especially like the last one because of the way the glass blends in so nicely to the natural plants that surround it. I do have a lot of questions, starting with, “What if it hails?” I wonder what kinds of questions my students would have about something like this.

We spent virtually our entire second day in Seattle at the Pacific Science Center. It was especially good for anatomy, physiology, and health; pretty good for earth science and environmental topics; and just okay for physics and math. I liked everything that I saw but was disappointed by what was missing. Here are a couple things I did see. First:


There was a great outdoor display that included this:  

On its face, it looks like a simple fountain, but in reality it’s a complex sculpture based on some high school mathematics. When we teach polar functions, typically in precalculus, one of the shapes we teach is the lemniscate, which looks like this:

 Students recognize it as the symbol used for infinity, but beyond presenting it in a precalculus class we rarely do anything with it. The equation that generates the curve is not a polar function, so we don’t usually use it in calculus (maybe we should, but that’s another story). Anyway, it turns out there are leminscates in the fountain:

Finally, there was this neat little piece of optics:

The three beams of light come from a source to the left and enter the triangular-shaped prism. By rotating the prism you can make interesting things happen, including what you see above. The top and bottom beams are reflecting and intersecting each other, and the middle beam is reflecting back on itself. There may be something interesting here we could do with our geometry students, but I’d need to think more about what it might be.

My last stop was the visitor’s center at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There was definitely a self-promotional aspect to it, but the design of the space was amazing, and some of the things they’ve been able to do over the years are very impressive. A couple of examples:



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