Travel Writer Finds Treats for Anglophone Brainiacs

News Editor

At BBC News Online, Zoe Kleinman introduces John Graham-Cumming, author of a wonderful resource for a certain kind of traveler: the unabashed geek. While visiting Munich, Germany, casting about for something to absorb an afternoon’s worth of time, Graham-Cumming learned of the Deutches Museum, and the rest is history. (We’re going for the prize offered for the 30-millionth iteration of that particular overused phrase.) It became the first entry in his nascent Geek Atlas, which has now gone from being a gleam in its creator’s eye to an actual book. Kleinman says:

The main criteria for inclusion in the resulting atlas were that each attraction had to be open, interesting and accessible to English speakers… He admits the ones he chose are more a reflection of his own travels than a comprehensive global guide.

Graham-Cumming had thought that perhaps the Lonely Planet series might have a guidebook for the science-oriented traveler, but on learning that no such guide existed, he began composing his own. He ended up with a compendium of 46 institutions in the US, 45 in the United Kingdom, and 12 in France. He provides the addresses couched as geographical coordinates, so a global positioning device is an indispensable aid to the book.

A bonus on the page is a video clip where Kleinman chats with the author at the Hunterian Museum. Located in London, this is the repository of the Royal College of Surgeons’ collection of body parts preserved in jars, and its vast array of surgical instruments from past eras. A nice virtual tour of the Hunterian is available online. It also houses half of the brain of Charles Babbage, widely regarded as the father of the computer. (The other half is in a different institution, the Science Museum.) Babbage is a true hero to Graham-Cumming, who experienced an emotional moment when viewing the inventor’s Difference Engine No 2 at a museum.

Graham-Cumming is a big fan of Munich’s Deutsches Museum, which may or may not be the world’s largest museum of technology and science, but it does draw more than a million visitors a year. He is also very fond of the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland, maintained by the U.S. National Security Agency. It is the American intelligence community’s first and only public museum.

Is there a science museum in The Third Tower Up From the Road? Sort of. It’s not hard-core, it’s fun, with 600 interactive experiences to be had , and it’s in Södertälje, Sweden. Kevin says:

Tom Tit’s Experiment is named after a fictional character, the alter ego of a French scientist who wrote books and articles very popular in Sweden… the kind of place your nice and somewhat ditzy aunt would put together if she had the money and the inclination.

Giant soap bubbles big enough to hold a person inside. Scale models of human fetuses that you can take out, unfold, refold, and put back in again. A rat circus in the Periodic Table Theatre (he tells where the best seats are). And best of all, a thing you can stick your head in and scream as loud as you want. Compared to that, what is Babbage’s brain?

photo courtesy of lorentey, used under this Creative Commons license


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