Eureka! The unexpected in maths and science

We might think of scientists as impersonal executors of the scientific method: a purely objective way of knowing and studying reality, which ultimately aims to expose all its hidden truths.

But we forget that scientists are human beings. Studying the unknown involves assumptions, preconceptions, plans and fears; it is easy to focus on what one would like to be true rather than on the truth. In this exhibition you will hear stories of scientists starting from the wrong assumptions, bending reality to avoid disproving their theories, or just being afraid of the reactions of the establishment to seemingly absurd discoveries.

In these cases what brings the scientist back on track? The wonder of the unexpected!  

You will hear about how centuries old theories had to be changed, and how something thought irrelevant turned out to be vitally important. Ultimately, scientists cannot control the rules of the universe, merely observe them. It is even unexpected in many ways that we can understand so much of the universe and predict things about it. The universe has far more surprises in store!

Science is a human activity, and the best way to understand it is to understand the individual human beings who practise it. Science is an art form […] Every time we introduce a new tool, it always leads to new and unexpected discoveries, because Nature’s imagination is richer than ours.

Freeman Dyson

For myself, I like a universe that includes much that is unknown and, at the same time, much that is knowable. A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull. A universe that is unknowable is no fit place for a thinking being. The ideal universe for us is one very much like the universe we inhabit.”

Carl Sagan

Although I was first drawn to math and science by the certainty they promised, today I find the unanswered questions and the unexpected connections at least as attractive.”

Lisa Randall



We thank the Cavendish Laboratory and the UCL Outreach departments for having provided some of the hands-on material. We thank Marco Bersanelli, Jon Butterworth and Luigi Del Debbio for inspirational ideas in the particle physics island.


Technical contributors

Andrea Biondi
Alessandro Burro
Turi Di Stefano
Chiara Ferrario
Tommaso Gatti


Margherita Bonzini
Irene Burke
Simona Ciceri
Alice Corbella
Lucia Cottone
Lorena Escudero Sanchez


Lauren Hockenhull
Sara Lamboglia
Amos Lawless
Marco Marengon
Sara Morosini
Diego Peretti


Giovanni Rosotti
Roger Sylvester
Paolo Tripoli
Maria Ubiali