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Turns out the heartwarming story of a 15-year-old math whiz who caught a 34-year-old error in an equation at Boston's Museum of Science doesn't quite compute.
Joseph Rosenfeld, a 10th-grader at John Handley High School in Winchester, Virginia, was on a family trip to the museum last month when he spotted what he thought was a mistake in a representation of the golden ratio.
(That's a ratio describing a rectangle that for centuries has been considered the most aesthetically pleasing shape in nature. It's in the design of the Parthenon, the Great Pyramid of Giza and many, many famous paintings, including the Mona Lisa. It's an irrational number — one that goes on forever — starting 1.618...)
The museum thought so, too, and it wrote Joseph a letter saying it would change the exhibit "if we can manage to do it without damaging the original."
One problem with the problem of the perfect problem: It's not a problem. Tuesday, the museum corrected the correction.
While the museum is "thrilled" at Joseph's enthusiasm for math, it said in a statement, "the way the Museum presents the Golden Ratio in its exhibit is in fact the less common — but no less accurate — way to present it."
Arthur Mattuck, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The Boston Globe that while there are, indeed, two ways to represent the formula, the museum's way is the less common way.
"There's no logical reason it can't be presented the other way," Mattuck told the newspaper. "The student is just presenting the fraction upside down, in other words using the reciprocal number."
Nobody's blaming Joseph. Far from it.
"It's exciting that people around the country are talking about math and science and that, in the process, we learned something too," the museum said Tuesday. "Let's hear it for STEM education and for Joseph Rosenfeld!"