Monday, January 19, 2009

Washington D.C.

In the second week of January, I went to the US capital to give a talk in the history session of the Joint Mathematics Meeting of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematics Association of America. This is sort of an ideal setting for a historian of mathematics. The meeting itself is huge with over 2000 talks, and the history session has one of the larger rooms, seating some 250 people. Since many mathematicians are interested in the history of their discipline, the room is usually close to full.

I was mostly busy with the conference, but my colleague Toke and I did get out to see some of the monuments and a few of the museums in the Smithsonian Institution. Actually, the only patriotic thing I did was visit the Lincoln memorial.

It was a dreary day and as we were walking back towards the museums it started to rain. I didn't even bother to go look at the White House. After all, I've seen it a million times in photos and movies, and I wasn't planning on going inside.

The Smithsonian Institution was really amazing. There must be around 20 museums, all of which are free and really well presented. One could spend days wandering around them and still not see everything. We only saw a fraction of the holdings of the few that we had time to visit. As well as having the money to put up first class exhibits, the Institution also possesses a fair number of original items from all over the world.

Below you see the Hope Diamond.

In the Air and Space Museum, there are spaceships and planes from all over the world hanging from the ceilings, including the original Wright Brothers 1903 flyer and one of the joint Soviet and US space stations.

Here's a picture of one of the top of the high end bikes made by the Wright Brothers in the bicycle shop where they built the first plane.

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