No Google Maps Without Mercator
New York has also joined in celebrations of the 500th birthday of the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator, with a small but fascinating exhibition on his life and works hosted in the prestigious New York Public Library. “The importance of Mercator?” Matt Knutzen of the library asks. “Well, every time we use our GPS, we are still using his scientific innovation. His work simply does not become outdated.” Knutzen is the curator of the small exhibition, ‘Mercator at 500’, in the prestigious main branch of the New York Public Library, an iconic building between Bryant Park and Fifth Avenue. The exhibition means that the festivities marking the 500th birthday of the Flemish geographer and cartographer will also echo in the United States. In the imposing hall that houses the library’s map division, a number of exclusive works by Mercator will be on display until the end of September – maps and atlases rarely available for public viewing. In 1569 Mercator pioneered his two-dimensional representation of the three-dimensional world, a system that still serves as the standard to this day. Mercator projection might exaggerate some areas of the planet, but it meant a revolution for shipping. And it is this practical use that we still continue to exploit on computer, tablet and smart phone screens. The digital maps of today owe everything to Mercator. “There are many map projections, but the only ones that continue to be relevant are Mercator’s, thanks to the useable human scale,” says Greg Rothfuss, Google Maps engineer. "Mercator created his maps using information he collected from people, and in principle we take the same approach at Google.”
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