Benjamin Wells, mathematics and computer science professor, with the Fusion Project's mascot, the Switch-Pitch. Photo by Margaret Mayer.
“If one-sixth of the class equals one-fourth of the museum gallery
mural niches, then how many students are in the class?” If that sounds
like a new twist on a word problem you aced on a 7th grade math exam,
give yourself an A+.
The problem is part of new instructional
material created to open San Francisco middle school students’ eyes to
the prevalence of math in a museum setting. Developing the basic
material was the job of Benjamin Wells, USF mathematics and computer
science professor. For his outstanding work in mathematics and
computation, Wells recently received the 2009 USF Distinguished
“Dr. Wells has developed innovative ideas in
going beyond what is computable, and has complemented this foundational
mathematical work with interdisciplinary research as a leader of the
Fusion Project, using art to teach mathematics to at-risk middle school
students,” according to USF’s Distinguished Research Committee.
Fusion Project is a USF College of Arts and Sciences research program
created by Philip Wagner and directed by Wells, with collaboration from
the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The Project seeks to bring art
to the math classroom and math students to the art museum.
development of the foundational classroom instructional material, which
is currently being finalized and expanded into museum tour “encounters”
through collaboration with other educators, resulted from surveying the
permanent collections of San Francisco’s de Young Museum, as well as
the museum’s interior and exterior architectural elements. He then
matched the artwork on his list with relevant 7th grade math standards
From the de Young’s metal exoskeleton to the
giant photographic mural "Strontium" (2004) by German painter Gerhard
Richter in the atrium, Wells’ analysis was instrumental as a roadmap
for educators who will tour and enjoy the museum’s art with students,
while touching on concepts like percentages, volumes, symmetry, and
The last student of mathematical logician Alfred Tarski,
Wells was also commended by USF’s Distinguished Research Committee for
his work on hypercomputation – computation that goes beyond what is
computable by any means, mathematically defined.
has resulted in visual communication and simulation software, published
papers, and works of art. It will be shared at the 2009 Bridges
Conference in Banff, Alberta, Canada in July and the Unconventional
Computation 2009 conference in Portugal in September.