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The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and…

The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive

by John Graham-Cumming

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0596523203, Paperback)

The Geek Atlas is a list of sites to visit where science, mathematics, or technology happened or is happening. The book can be used as a true travel guide or as inspiration for the armchair traveler. Each place has its own chapter that includes a general introduction to the place's significance, a related technical subject covered in more detail, and practical visiting information.

From Kiev to Jaipur with The Geek Atlas in hand

“This is the Captain speaking. Welcome aboard flight NB1729, the Nerd Bird, stopping in Kiev, Munich, Paris, London, Dublin, New York, San Francisco and Jaipur. Seat belts fastened please: we’re about to apply Newton’s laws of motion and take off.”


First stop is Kiev, Ukraine and it’s straight from the airport to the National Museum of Chernobyl that explains the events of April 26, 1986 when reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power station blew open and released a cloud of radioactivity that covered Europe. The following morning your tour bus leaves Kiev and makes the drive out to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Inside the zone you see the entombed reactor and the abandoned town of Pripyat, which is forever stuck in the mid-1980s.

During the trip you’ve got plenty of time to read The Geek Atlas’ explanation of the dangers of radioactive iodine and its effect on the thyroid gland.

Next, it’s back aboard the plane for the ride down to the gleaming airport in Munich, Germany. From there it’s a short train ride to the Deutsches Museum--probably the greatest science museum in the world. You’ll be staying all day in the museum because of its sheer size (there are 28,000 objects on display) and the highlight will be the Electric Power demonstration where 300 kV of AC are generated and then an 800 kV lightning strike is set off.

On the train ride into Munich there’s time to read The Geek Atlas’ explanation of the operation of the Diesel engine and find out what a planimeter is.

Paris is up next. Your walking tour of the City of Lights starts at the Paris Observatory at the feet of François Arago, director of the observatory in the 19th century. You are looking for a small brass disk set into the sidewalk. Written on the disk is the word ARAGO and the letters N and S. You follow the northerly direction towards the observatory staying on the old Paris meridian (the French 0 degrees of longitude).

Along the way you’ll search for more of these Arago medallions marking the meridian and end up seeing the sights of Paris. The meridian passes through the city center and without straying far you’ll see The Pantheon (with Foucault’s Pendulum inside), the Jardin de Luxembourg, the Eiffel Tower and le Musée du Louvre.

The Brunel Museum

Stop for a coffee near the river Seine halfway through the trip and read The Geek Atlas’ description of how to find your local meridian at home using a stick and some string.

The next day, you leave the airplane behind and hurtle under the English Channel on a train to arrive in London in just over two hours. In London your tour avoids the major tourist attractions and takes you by underground train to The Brunel Museum.

You arrive by passing through the first tunnel built under a body of water. If you are lucky you can take the museum tour back through the floodlit tunnel in an underground train that creeps through at walking pace.

While in London the tour stops for lunch at Bunhill Fields Cemetery, a quiet spot in the City of London, where you can hunt down the grave of Reverend, and pioneer of probability theory, Thomas Bayes. The Geek Atlas contains a probability brainteaser to ponder while thinking about the famous Bayes Theorem (which is explained).

Before leaving Europe the airplane makes a stop in Dublin for a bit more mathematics. Crossing Broom Bridge across the Royal Canal you come to a plaque on the bridge itself. This is the spot where Sir William Rowan Hamilton, out on a walk with his wife in 1843, scratched the fundamental equation of the theory of quaternions into the stonework using a knife. The equation had just come to him and he needed to write it down. Opening The Geek Atlas to page 91, you’ll find a description of the quaternions and the complex numbers.

Deep Space Communications Complex

After the long flight to New York’s JFK and a bumpy cab ride into the city you avoid the crowds around Times Square and head straight for the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of New York City. Inside is the small and wonderful John M. Mossman collection of locks. Since New York is an important banking center locks are very important and the collection is filled with beautiful examples of complex, mechanical time locks used to secure vaults. Many of the locks were built by the Yale Company, and The Geek Atlas explains how the familiar home ‘tumbler’ (or Yale) lock works.

Flying over the US towards California there’s plenty of time to read up on the The Geek Atlas’ highlights of Silicon Valley, but after leaving San Francisco airport your tour heads south and out towards Fort Irwin, CA where NASA has the headquarters of the Deep Space Communications Complex with its multiple parabolic dishes that point skyward and chat with man-made probes that are exploring the solar system. Some of the probes have been phoning home to Fort Irwin for over 30 years.

Since it’s a long ride to Fort Irwin you’ll have time to get your head around The Geek Atlas section on error-detecting and correcting codes used to transmit information across the reaches of space (and ensure your credit card number is accurate).

To complete the tour it’s a change of scene and continent: you leave high-tech California and dial back time to visit one of the oldest stone observatories in the world at the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, India. In Jaipur you’ll be seeing the largest sundial in the world and a host of beautiful and massive instruments used for astronomical observations since the 18th century.

“This is the Captain speaking once again. Thank you for taking The Geek Atlas world tour. Your trip is free if you can tell the chief flight attendant the significance of our flight number while deplaning.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:17 -0400)

The history of science is all around us, if you know where to look. With this unique traveler's guide, you'll learn about 128 destinations around the world where discoveries in science, mathematics, or technology occurred or is happening now. Travel to Munich to see the world's largest science museum, watch Foucault's pendulum swinging in Paris, ponder a descendant of Newton's apple tree at Trinity College, Cambridge, and more. Each site in The Geek Atlas focuses on discoveries or inventions, and includes information about the people and the science behind them. Full of interesting photos and illustrations, the book is organized geographically by country (by state within the U.S.), complete with latitudes and longitudes for GPS devices. - Publisher.… (more)

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