Every now and then, an engineer writes a blog on museums that are of interest to the engineering community. Jon Titus did this one and followed it up with a review of a The Geek Atlas that I have used ever since for inspiration as a result of his recommendations.
I remember Michael Dunn did a similar blog that appeared on the late, lamented Scope Junction website. More recently, there have been the blogs Kid-Friendly Science Museums We Love and 11 Summer Vacation Spots for Engineers. Now it's my turn.
I have done my fair share of touring, and I could include some fairly exotic museums like the Bensusan Museum and Library of Photography in Johannesburg, South Africa, or Gold Reef City where you get to go down a real early 20th Century gold mine. But if you are heading out to South Africa, you probably aren't going there for indoor entertainment.
I am not going to rank the museums, although -- having said that -- the very best museum I have ever visited was Bletchley Park in England and the National Museum of Computing at the same location. No electrical engineer can consider his touring days complete until he has made this pilgrimage. Bletchley Park is situated, not coincidentally, between Oxford and Cambridge. I have only done a day tour of Cambridge, but I must suspect that it is similar to Oxford in heritage with the wonderful exception of the Corpus Clock.
Oxford is a museum unto itself -- everywhere you walk, you see plaques saying things like "This was Boyle's lab" and "These buildings were designed by Christopher Wren." The names of the early members of the Royal Society (except for Newton) are all over the place. For those of us of a certain age, there is a thrill walking past the stadium where Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile. There are some concentrations of science and technology in Oxford like the Museum of the History of Science. When I was there, this had a great steampunk offering, which completely overshadowed the huge permanent astrolabe exhibition. Meanwhile, if you are into "quirky" and "whimsical," you shouldn't miss the Pitt Rivers Museum, which has everything from shrunken heads to HP35s. It's like wandering around someone's attic.
London is just as impressive as Oxford, only much bigger. As far as science is concerned, you must visit the London Science Museum, which will also evoke all the names and inventions that have created to modern age. The Royal Observatory at Greenwich was much smaller than I had imagined, but it was well-worth the trip.
The first science museum I ever visited came as a complete and wonderful surprise. While on a trip to Florence, Italy -- and tired of seeing mediaeval art -- I let my wife go to the Uffizi Gallery (I had been there before and the waiting line wasn't to my liking) while I sought out the Science Museum. I see it has since undergone a facelift and is now called the Museo Galileo. On display were early pieces of equipment that were used to investigate the laws of motion and that have since been transformed into executive toys (like the five balls hanging from a frame). There were also renaissance models of the human body with cutaways that were obviously made from the real thing. It also has one of Galileo's fingers preserved in glass, and yes, it is that finger.
Now, I have to admit that I am something of a Philistine when it comes to art, but I did love the M.C. Escher Museum in The Hague in the Netherlands. And I also liked the surreal pictures by Magritte in the Eponymous Museum in Brussels. I don't understand Picasso at all, but at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona there were several audio visual presentations that showed how he had taken Velasquez's painting Las Meninas (Spanish for "The Maids of Honor") and morphed it to his own perception of reality. I still don't like Picasso's work, but it was interesting nonetheless.
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