Tenth Grader Notices Huge Math Error In The Golden Ratio At Boston Museum Of Science

Golden ratio and Joseph Rosenfeld

You’d expect the Boston Museum of Science to display facts reliably and accurately, but that’s not what happened at a mathematical exhibit about the Golden Ratio. More embarrassing than displaying an incorrect equation for everyone to see is having a 15-year-old boy be the first to notice it.

According to Time, tenth grader Joseph Rosenfeld was visiting the Boston Museum of Science on a family trip from Virginia. When Joseph came across the “Mathematica: A World of Numbers…and Beyond” exhibit, he realized something was off with the Golden Ratio.

There were minus signs instead of plus signs. Joseph Rosenfeld had just enough knowledge about the Golden Ratio to spot the mistake, so he politely left a note at the front desk informing them of the incorrect equation. The “Mathematica: A World of Numbers” exhibit featuring the false Golden Ratio had been on display for almost 35 years before anyone noticed.

A few days after Joseph made the correction, the museum’s content developer, Alana Parkes, wrote back, telling Rosenfeld that the exhibit would be fixed as soon as possible. She admitted that the Golden Ratio error had been on display for a “very long time.”

“You are right that the formula for the Golden Ratio is incorrect. We will be changing the – sign to a + sign on the three places it appears if we can manage to do it without damaging the original.”

According to Boston.com, Joseph was excited to be the first one to realize the Golden Ratio was wrong, though he wasn’t completely confident in his math skills.

” It was cool,” Joseph said. “At first, I wasn’t sure, I thought maybe I had it wrong, but… I was just really excited that I found an error. That doesn’t happen every day.”

Rosenfeld says that someday he would like to return to Boston to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While it is amazing that a 15-year-old high school student noticed the Golden Ratio error before anyone else, the museum eventually released a statement saying that the minus signs were not technically wrong. That version of the Golden Ratio equation is simply much less common. However, the Boston Museum of Science did commend Joseph Rosenfeld for his impressive knowledge about the Golden Ratio.

[Image credit: Jeff Taylor, AP]