IMAGINARY is a platform for open math exhibitions and a project of math communication originated at the Matematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach. The main activity of IMAGINARY is the installation of its exhibitions in cities around the world, always with the partnership of a local organizer. All the content of the exhibition, mainly digital, is free (as in freedom), so the local partner can download the content at no cost and reproduce it at its expenses. IMAGINARY offers support and customization for a fee. As of 2016, IMAGINARY has set over 240 exhibitions in more than 50 countries, using 23 languages, and attracting more than 2.5 million visitors.
The IMAGINARY platform accepts exhibits and materials (software, images, films, texts and hands-on) from mathematicians, artists, developers, users, etc. The materials submitted to IMAGINARY must be licensed under an open license (CC, GPL, ...) to be downloaded freely, and potentially to be used in future IMAGINARY exhibitions.
Besides the exhibitions, IMAGINARY also has other communication projects, both to the public as well as to the community. Most notably:
- IMAGINARY Discovery Box (Entdeckerbox). A project to bring materials from the exhibition to German schools.
- Snapshots of current mathematics. A project to bring current research in mathematics to the public.
- Math Communication Network. An effort to promote linking, collaboration and interaction of different math outreach projects.
- Conferences. Up to the date, the AIMS-IMAGINARY: Math Communication in Africa and the IMAGINARY Conference 2016.
IMAGINARY is funded by the research center Matematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach and the foundation Klaus Tschira Stiftung. The human team is an international and de-centralized group of mathematicians and communicators that work online for the project.
The project was created with the occasion of the German Year of Mathematics 2008, when the MFO was asked to prepare an exhibition for the general public showing advanced and recent mathematics, keeping it artistic and appealing. The program SURFER was developed for the occasion, and other software and images from German mathematicians was added to create the exhibition "Through the eyes of mathematics". The first IMAGINARY exhibition was launched on December 2007 in Munich and visited 13 cities in Germany during 2008.
After the year of mathematics was over, the exhibition faced a new stage. In 2009 the exhibition started traveling abroad, setting stages in Austria, United States, and more German cities. In November, in Kiev, it was set the first IMAGINARY exhibition organized independently of the original Oberwolfach team. It was then decided that all the exhibition should be made available under open licenses and spreaded with the partnership model.
In 2010, IMAGINARY was oficially promoted from an exhibition to a platform for math communication. In addition to the countries that kept increasing the list of exhibitions, that year IMAGINARY made its first long-term agreement with the Spanish mathematical society (RSME), which has since brought the IMAGINARY exhibition to 17 Spanish cities. For the Spanish exhibition, the contents were not only translated, but the RSME recruited professors from universities to prepare full new documentation and activities to the exhibits. These documents were added as open source materials. In 2011, it entered the circuit of science museums, opening exhibitions in Spain (CosmoCaixa Madrid and CosmoCaixa Barcelona) and in Germany (Deutsches Museum).
During 2011 and 2012, lots of new cities around the world hosted the exhibition, both as stand-alone exhibition as well as temporarily inside science museums. Some of these exhibitions were acompanied of meetings and mini-conferences gathering other projects of math communication on open forums of discussion.
2013 was declared the year of Mathematics of planet Earth by the UNESCO, with the collaboration of the IMU. As part of the outreach activities aside of the scientific program, IMAGINARY was given the assignement to set a contest for math exhibits on the topic of the planet Earth. All the exhibits participating on the contest were included in the IMAGINARY platform, thus creating a new exhibition "Mathematics of Planet Earth". This new exhibition has been on display on its own or in conjunction with "Through the eyes of mathematics". At the same time when the contest was awarded, the MPE-day at UNESCO in Paris, the new website for the IMAGINARY platform was presented, where it was fully integrated the user participation for sharing exhibits.
In fall 2013, the German foundation Klaus Tschira Stiftung renewed its funding to IMAGINARY, widening the scope of actuation towards the community of math communication. Since then, IMAGINARY has been developing several projects like the Entdeckerbox, the Snapshots, conferences, and the Math Communication Network.
IMAGINARY has a collection of exhibits grouped in two big exhibitions: the original "Through the eyes of mathematics", that features "pure" abstract mathematics, and "Mathematics of planet Earth", that features applied mathematics. However, the distinction is not strict and frequently IMAGINARY exhibitions mix modules from both sources.
Through the eyes of mathematics
The exhibits on this collection are:
- SURFER. Visualization of algebraic surfaces in real time.
- jReality Exhibit. Videogame-like environment with minimal surfaces and other mathematical objects.
- Cinderella Applets. A collection of miscellaneous small interactive programs.
- 3D-XplorMath. Rendering of various collections of surfaces.
- Morenaments. Drawing patterns with the seventeen wallpaper groups.
Mathematics of planet Earth
The exhibits on this collection are:
- The Sphere of the Earth. Cartographic projections and their distortion.
- Dune Ash. Spreading of a cloud of volcano ashes with the wind.
- Five MPE Experiences. Five small programs on cartography, dynamical systems, wator, temperature, and cellular automata.
- Earthquakes and Structures. Resistence of some structures suffering an earthquake.
- Rhumb Lines and Spirals. Appearance of rhumb lines on the Earth under a family of map projections.
- The future of glaciers. How it is modelled the melting of a glacier in the Alps.
- Bottles and Oceanography. A home experiment with bottles that shows the convection of water in the ocean depending on salinity and temperature.
- Berlin Subways – Periodic Timetable Optimization.
- The Convertible House.
- Probing the invisible, from the earthquake to the model.
- Erosion and fractal coasts
- Where are you?
- Coriolis force
- Permeable or impermeable?
- The melting of glaciers
- Tectonic Plates
- Is the core of the Earth solid or liquid?
- Where is the sun at noon?
- All maps are wrong!
- Satellites under control
- Solitons and Tsunamis
- Turbulent Weather!
- From Earth to the sky
- Fractals objects: models for nature
IMAGINARY discovery box (Entdeckerbox)
The IMAGINARY-Entdeckerbox (meaning in German "discovery box") is a packed set of IMAGINARY materials ready to ship to schools and other organizations to "discover" the IMAGINARY exhibition. The box contains a collection of various discovery ideas, software, films, 3D prints and images, with the aim of triggering discovery and experimentation with Mathematics. Similar to a game collection, the box offers a multitude of features which can be used by themselves or in combination, alone or in a group setting. The emphasis is on letting curiosity and creativity loose, rather than having to follow step-by-step instructions. The box was launched in December 2013 in Germany (so far only in German language).
Projects for the community
IMAGINARY promotes the interaction and collaboration of all people involved in math outreach. This includes the community of math museums and math communications, but also the academic world and the education world. IMAGINARY has started a Math Communication Network for people devoted to math dissemination, which includes a list and map of math museums, periodic newsletters with information not directly related with IMAGINARY, and a set of guidelines for the community known as the Dresden Declaration proposal (this proposal is not endorsed by any institution so far). It is also the administrator of this WikiMathCom.