The Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences

Opened in July 1992, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences is not only established as the UK’s national research institute for Mathematics, it is also unique in it’s selection of scientific programmes that are interdisciplinary, bringing together academics and researchers with diverse knowledge and expertise. The institute was designed, nearly three decades ago, to be inherently collaborative making it several steps ahead of the pedagogical curve.

An image of a blackboard located at the Isaac newton institute

Deputy Director of the Institute, Dr Christie Marr, when asked what her ideal collaborative space for mathematics would look like, answered simply: “this is it”.

Drawing leading mathematicians from all over the world, the institute runs several programmes per year ranging from just a few days to six months. During each programme ideas and expertise are shared, knowledge transferred and collaborations shared.

The Isaac Newton Institute contains 130 square metres of chalkboard, with the building designed so that a writing surface is never more than a few steps away. From the offices and informal work spaces through to the lift interior and even the toilets, there is evidence of ad hoc thinking and collaboration in every corner of the building.

The wall boards throughout are a stunning silk-like textured glass and the Isaac Newton Institute came to TeacherBoards in search of a column board surface that would be sufficiently high quality for their mathematicians. Dr Marr said that while nothing matched the experience of writing on their unique glass surfaces, the Vitreous Enameled Steel chalk column board surface provided by TeacherBoards was a class above anything else they had explored.

The seminars and lectures given throughout the year are recorded and streamed live as well as being available in the seminar archive. The Institute’s seminars have been used as the basis of entire masters degree courses in Brazil and are viewed all around the world.

There is a startling lack of obvious technology throughout the Institute with digital being used intelligently and discreetly to enhance the space, from the movement responsive projection in the Seminar rooms to the digital timetabling screen in the ground floor circulation space.

Indeed, the mathematicians, from Abel Prize winners to Nobel Laureates, are actively resistant to advanced technologies such as interactive touch screens and projectors. When the institute did a large scale survey of their researchers with a view to offering more diverse writing surfaces and screens, the results returned unanimously opposed to anything that would replace or reduce the availability of chalk surfaces, a subject we explore further in our perspective section.

The Isaac Newton Institute is a space built for thinking and sharing and every inch of it is designed to encourage exactly that. It is a space that, even at nearly three decades old, epitomises what physical space design that listens and adapts to it’s ‘thinkers’ can achieve.

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