Model of a Gaussian Surface by Richard P. Baker

This geometric model was constructed by Richard P. Baker in about 1930 when he was Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Iowa. Baker believed that models were essential for the teaching of many parts of mathematics and physics, and over one hundred of his models are in the museum collections.
The typed part of a paper label on the base of this plaster model reads: No. 448 (/) Gaussian Surface. Model 448 appears on page 21 of Baker’s 1931 catalog of models in the STATISTICS section as “Gaussian surface.” Baker named this model after the 19th-century German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. The surface is related to a statistical function whose graph is commonly referred to as a bell curve. While the bell curve is often referred to as a Gaussian curve, the formal name for a statistical function that produces a bell curve is a normal distribution function.
Presumably Baker called this model a Gaussian surface because its vertical cross sections are Gaussian curves. The horizontal cross sections are ellipses and the formal name of this type of surface is a bivariate normal distribution surface.
The term Gaussian surface is most commonly used in connection with electromagnetic fields. That usage is not related to this model.
Currently not on view
Object Name
geometric model
date made
ca 1915-1935
Baker, Richard P.
Physical Description
plaster (overall material)
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
beige (overall color)
brown (overall color)
bolted and screwed (overall production method/technique)
average spatial: 12.5 cm x 21.1 cm x 10.9 cm; 4 29/32 in x 8 5/16 in x 4 9/32 in
place made
United States: Iowa, Iowa City
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Mathematics
Mathematical Association of America Objects
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Mathematical Association of America Objects
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Frances E. Baker
general reference
Baker, Robert P.. Mathematical Models
Additional Media

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