Einstein Was Right

One of my favorite institutions is the Eli Whitney Museum in New Haven. It is not really a museum, but rather an engineering school for kids who make working objects out of everyday household things like rubber bands or mousetraps. This ‘experiential learning’ is great for kids who have trouble learning through language, but also for all kids, who recall more from physical activity than the theoretical. Making things is now a growing trend in every educational level from Pre-K through graduate schools and we’ve been applying that in our designs.

One of the primary ways that the museum raises funds is through its annual ‘Leonardo Challenge’. Artists and designers pay for the fun of creating and then donating an artwork or gizmo made with a common article (similar to the kids’ materials.) These inspirational objects change annually and in the past have been wooden clothes pins, thread spools, chains, and the like. The works are sold at a silent auction, raising money twice for the same thing. The concept is ingenious, like the rest of the place.

This year the Challenge is lenses. I asked Patrick McCauley, our superb model maker, to laser cut a grid of grooves in a small board. I then inserted nine reducing lenses in the grooves at right angles to each other. As you turn the board, the flat grid plane suddenly appears to curve, just as Albert Einstein predicted happens with space and time. It’s a simple idea, but infinite fun.