The Mathematics gallery combines instruments used by working mathematicians – such as slide rules, drawing instruments and early analogue computers – with beautiful models illustrating mathematical principles. The slide rules include the earliest dated example, and a very large working model on which you can practise getting your sums right!

Our collection of drawing instruments start with a group found at the ruins of Pompeii, move through the beautiful sets from the 17th and 18th centuries, and take in the drawing of ellipses, spirals and much more complex shapes. Models begin with the Platonic solids and include colourful uniform polyhedra, topological models and surface models which have inspired artists such as Henry Moore.

This gallery is unique in showing a range of the uses of mathematical instruments: in gunnery, carpentry, mapping, alcohol measurement and packing, for example.

As well as instruments with practical uses, the gallery is home to devices where utility is not the prime objective, such as the harmonograph and geometric chuck, which can draw intricate patterns. It also shows the presence of mathematics in nature with crystal structures, spiral shells and horns. New additions focus on Euclidean and non-Euclidean mathematics, simple tools to aid arithmetic – which are always in demand – and a set of glass topological surfaces.

On display

Bissaker's slide rule, 1654, and Thacher's calculating instrument, 1881.

The earliest known dated slide rule, made by Robert Bissaker, which uses scales bound together with metal bands.

Harmonograph, 1909.

Harmonographs demonstrate the action of two pendulums acting at the same time at right angles to each other.

Klein bottle, 1995-1996.

A Klein bottle is a surface which has no edges, no outside or inside.


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