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Ask Slashdot: Science Sights To See? 363

First time accepted submitter steevven1 writes "My girlfriend and I are planning a long trip across the United States for this summer, and we'd like to see the usual sights, but we both have a bit of a geeky side, and we were trying to think of science-related marvels to see along the way. So far, we have thought of places like the Very Large Array in New Mexico and Fermilab in Illinois. Any suggestions?"
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Ask Slashdot: Science Sights To See?

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  • on the east coast. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Picardo85 ( 1408929 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:11AM (#38157274)
    Hayden Planetarium på American Museum of Natural History in New York
  • If with 'long trip' Alaska is also included, then you could visit HAARP. :)
    Might be interesting to see what all the 'new age' fuss is about in a scientific perspective. :p

    • If with 'long trip' Alaska is also included...

      I'm not sure subby realizes how many furlongs are in a USA.

      Still, let the geek-fest begin...

      • by xaxa ( 988988 )

        With my family, I covered a lot of the USA in about 10 weeks on three different trips, although that was back when petrol was really, really cheap (as opposed to just being really cheap, as it is now). My dad likes driving.

        I don't remember seeing any man-made science (except for some big civil engineering, e.g. Hoover Dam) but there are lots of natural science things to see -- geology, animals and plants. Head to the national parks!

        • by tubs ( 143128 )

          When you're petrol costs you $9 a gallon then you can complain about price!

        • The real problem is in the definition of 'long trip'.

          You'd think a geeky thing like "ask slashdot" would be able to phrase a precise question.

          Don't hold your breath though. I've been reading slashdot for about ten years and I don't think I've ever seen one.

  • by Max Romantschuk ( 132276 ) <> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:12AM (#38157280) Homepage

    I have heard good things about the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA: []

    Sadly, the place was closed for renovations when I happened to be in town...

    • I went there, it's totally worth it. SFBA in general is a nice place.

    • After all the acid I did over the years you would think I would have gotten at least one, teensy little flashback. But nooooooo!

      Then I went to the CHM and they almost had to carry me out on a stretcher. I went into a fugue state and got my hand slapped by a docent for touching the mouse of the Xerox Alto. It was like 30 years hadn't passed and I just knew there were people out there, waiting in the maze [], peeking around the corners like cockroaches.

      The card readers, ginormous disk drives, core memory, v

  • Two NASA facilities fun to tour are Langley and Wallops Island.
    • And if you're lucky at Langley, you can see the F-22 demo pilot practice the full airshow routine. (3-4 times a month) No way to predict when, but he did it just yesterday.
  • Get a tour of super huge radio telescopes and the drive to get there is pretty too.

  • San Jose area (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheCycoONE ( 913189 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:20AM (#38157332)

    When I was in California with my wife, we went to The Tech ( and the Intel museum (

    We found the Tech interesting and wish we had more time to see it (we got there a couple hours before closing), the Intel museum wasn't anything special and could probably be skipped unless you really like looking at old silicon wafers or can't miss the opportunity to wear one of those bunny suits for a photo op.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There is a historic marker UNIVAC (1950's) outside the former Eckert Mauchly building in East Falls - Philadelphia. The owners of the building worked with me and others to get a historic marker. They turned it into a farmers market with historic photos inside as a small museum. In West Philadelphia on the University of Pennsylvania's campus is another historic marker for ENIAC and a small museum inside the building.

  • Kitt Peak (Score:5, Informative)

    by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:23AM (#38157344) Homepage

    If you don't mind driving up long, windy roads and turning off your cell phone, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory has a visitor center at Kitt Peak -- they have a bunch of telescopes there, including a solar telescope, so it's possible that they might be observing if it's not too windy. (it was too windy when I went there). []

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vegigami ( 32659 )

      Yes! The trip to Kitt Peak is worth it just for the fantastic view of the surrounding countryside. And if you're in the neighborhood, you could also visit the nearby Whipple Observatory, about an hour south of Tucson. You'll need an appointment to take the tour at Whipple. Whipple Observatory Visitor's Center [] While in Tucson, you can spend a lot of time at the Pima Air and Space Museum [] if you're in to that kind of thing.

  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@h a r t n u p . n et> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:24AM (#38157352) Homepage

    Near Arco, Idaho, is the site of Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 [].

    "At 1:50 pm on December 20, 1951 it became the world's first electricity-generating nuclear power plant when it produced sufficient electricity to illuminate four 200-watt light bulbs."

    It's decommissioned now, but the building and much of the original equipment is still there, along with good museum exhibits.

    You haven't said what route you're taking across the States, but Arco is along the "Oregon Trail" as documented in the guidebook "Road Trip USA []" (which I thoroughly recommend, having driven four of its cross-country routes)

  • Nerdy Day Trips (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cholten ( 253069 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:25AM (#38157362)

    Vast number of options here :

  • Arizona (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:27AM (#38157368)

    I'm from Belgium but in Arizona I can recommend:

            - Pima Air and Space museum near Tucson
            - Titan Missile Museam near Tucson as well
            - Biosphere II in Oracle, Arizona
            - Meteor Crater near Winslow

    • I'd skip Meteor Crater. It's private land, and they charge a hell of a lot of money to see a big hole. As an alternative, I highly recommend the National Parks in northern Arizona. There are a string of them along the road from Phoenix to Flagstaff, and a ton in the area around Flagstaff. To replace your 'crater' fix, go see Sunset Crater. It's a volcanic cinder cone in the middle of a volcanic field with flows and all kinds of cool formations. For more tech-geekery, Lowell Observatory is right inside th

    • Don't forget the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

      My step-father was one of the curators at the Pioneer Museum in town for a few years. They had the actual mechanical computer that Clyde Tombaugh used to calculate the orbit of Pluto. It still worked. It might be worth phoning them to see if they still have it on display.

  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@h a r t n u p . n et> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:27AM (#38157372) Homepage

    The Barringer Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona is a must-visit if you're passing within, ooh, two hours drive from it.

    If it was in any other state, it would be the biggest hole in the ground in the state. But it's in Arizona.

    The Grand Canyon has to be seen too. You could call that nerdy if you're into geology.

    • For geology, I preferred Blanchard Springs Cavern in Arkansas and Mammoth Cave in Tennessee.
    • If you're in Arizona then Grand Canyon is a must (just unbelievably huge), but another really interesting place to visit is Petrified Forest National Park - full of fossilized (petrified) trees laying as they fell. []

    • Two comments: first, you will probably not see any " Science." You may see the results of engineering feats ... but check out places well before you go too far out of your way; some " science sites" that I am aware of actually consist of two parts: the places where science is done and where they really wish you would go away and leave them alone, and the other parts -- where the "outreach" people have set up demos. The Air and Space Museum in D.C. is a fantastic place to visit, and I'd recommend that,
    • Air Force Musem (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The US Air Force Museum in Dayton Ohio, and the US Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola Fla are both excellent.

      In northern Minn. there is an iorn mine that has been turned into a state museum thats cool

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:32AM (#38157402)

    Smithsonian Air and Space museum, Smithsonian History museum, Spy museum, Washington DC
    Kennedy Space Center, Florida
    Einstein's House, Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, Princeton, New Jersey
    Edison Labs, West Orange, New Jersey
    Dinosaur State Park, Connecticut
    Falling Water, Pennsylvania

    • by swalve ( 1980968 )
      The air and space annex (Hazy Udvar!) out by Dulles is pretty neat. You can get up close to a lot of old planes and see some of the engineering and production feats. Also, the Enola Gay is there. And the Space Shuttle Enterprise (used to be, anyway).
  • One MicroSoft way ?

  • Smithsonian museums (Score:4, Informative)

    by bug ( 8519 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:33AM (#38157408)
    If you hit Washington, DC, then you should definitely check out the Smithsonian along the Mall. The National Air and Space Museum is especially good, although crowded in the summer. Make sure to check out the kid's section, which has a bunch of wind tunnels and other fun things that adults will get a kick out of. They also have a really great annex full of cool aircraft next to Dulles airport about an hour west of the city. It would also be a terrible shame if you didn't visit one or more of our national parks while you're in the US. Our varied landscape and remote stretches of wilderness define the character of our nation perhaps more than any other single thing. Just make sure to pack plenty of water and basic survival gear, as some of the parks can be quite remote and wild. Wherever you end up visiting, you'll want to keep a sense of scale in mind. The US is rather large, in ways that many of our visitors aren't really mentally prepared for. Consider limiting yourself to one or two regions, so that you get more time actually seeing things instead of racing from place to place. I hope you enjoy your visit!
    • If you do Air and Space, you want to do the one out by Dulles Airport. That's the one that has a space shuttle, Enola Gay, tons of other awesomeness.
  • by aunchaki ( 94514 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:37AM (#38157440) Homepage

    Hoover Dam is worth a visit. It's overwhelming in its size and design. I hope they're re-opened the full tour that I took in the early 1990s (it was closed to tourists after 9/11 and incrementally re-opened later).

  • St. Louis, Missouri (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Take a ride on a rotating elevator in the St. Louis Arch. It's a real feat of engineering and it's an interesting place to visit. If you become friendly with the people controlling the elevator, they will let you see the graphical Visual Basic application which runs the whole thing.

  • The "Laser Lab" in Rochester, NY does research on fusion. Tours show the entire apparatus. Check tour schedules because they are not every day.
  • by Tronster ( 25566 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:41AM (#38157474) Homepage

    As a video game geek, a few recommendations:

    This summer (2012) the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., will be hosting "The Art of Video Games". []

    In New Hampshire, there is one of the largest (if not the largest) arcade of classic video games: "Fun Spot" []

    If thirsty and heading through NJ, there is always the semi-famous "Barcade": []

    • This summer (2012) the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., will be hosting "The Art of Video Games".

      And if you're in DC and haven't already been, make sure you visit the National Air and Space Museum...

  • Trinity Site (Score:4, Informative)

    by airnewt ( 830564 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:41AM (#38157478)
    Depending on when you go, you can also go to the Trinity site on White Sands where the first atomic bomb was tested. They open it up only twice a year on the first Saturday in April and October. If you are already down in New Mexico for the VLA there is the National Solar Observatory near Alamogordo.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    in Ft Meade, Maryland

    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      Seconded. (It's what I came here to post.) Probably the most interesting museum I have ever been to.

      If you get the opportunity, have a docent give you a guided tour. Most of them are retired NSA workers.

  • by An dochasac ( 591582 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:43AM (#38157486)

    Yerkes Observatory [] in Williams Bay, Wisconsin still holds the world's largest refractor in a beautiful 19th century building. The Astronomer royale of Scotland once called it, "The Taj Mahal of astronomy" and perfectly fits the stereotype of what an observatory should look like. Their visiting hours are meager and much of the lovely grounds was turned into a housing development during the property bubble, but it's well worth a visit.

    Venture further north to the Wisconsin Dells, a down-to-earth tourist trap where you'll find water parks, Indian trading posts and.... the Mir space station? [] Yep. One Mir copy fell out of orbit, the other is somewhere in Russia and this one is in Wisconsin.

    The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry [] isn't my favorite science museum, but it is big and was recently updated.

    The university of Chicago's old Stagg Field [] was demolished (happily, via non-nuclear means) but you can visit a sculpture at the site of the world's first man-made atomic pile.

  • If you are in LA, drive up the mountain to the Mount Wilson Observatory in honour of Edwin Hubble. If you like observatories you can do the one in Griffith Park in the same day (if it isn't closed for refurbishment). It has appeared in at least one Star Trek episode. If in the southern deserts, visit the Hoover dam and Carlsbad Caverns. In San Francisco, I thought the exploratorium wasn't bad as science museums go.
  • by Herbster ( 641217 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:48AM (#38157522) [] I went here this summer, it's in Hutchison, KS, and has a wide range of actual flight hardware from various space missions - including the Apollo 13 CM. There's also an actual SR-71 Blackbird and genuine V-1 and V-2 rockets from WWII. Worth a trip if you're passing through!
  • by Provocateur ( 133110 ) <> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:56AM (#38157574) Homepage

    ...where Reese unloaded a shotgun on the first ever Terminator.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is very worth stopping by and free.

    The Henry Ford museum in Detroit is good too but their car exhibit - which is 80% of the reason to go - is down right now for remodeling. They also have some huge locomotives, other steam engines, farm equipment, and machine tools. When the car exhibit is back up it is totally worth it. They also offer a tour of the Ford Rouge manufacturing plant.

  • The best "science sight" to see is that of beautiful galaxies and wormholes upclose, as seen in "Contact." For that you do what Dr. Arroway did - you visit the beautiful scenery in New Mexico/Arizona/Puerto Rico. Now, I know that's a reward in itself, but don't rest there. Don't forget to put on a headphone and listen to alien signals.

  • by sk999 ( 846068 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:58AM (#38157594)

    If you are already in New Mexico, this place is on the highway between Las Cruces and Alamogordo. You reach it by going through the security gate for the Missile Range itself.

  • The Henry Ford (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Dearborn, MI (near Detroit) -- new name for the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village. Old Henry realized that cars (and his Model T in particular) were changing the American landscape. He set out to preserve interesting bits by moving them to his the Wright Brothers workshop where their first airplanes were built.

    • I second this recommendation. The Henry Ford has lots of cool stuff to see, and its not just cars... They have planes and trains, I am also fascinated by the antique generators. Also, if going to the Henry Ford museum, you should check out the River Rouge factory tour.
  • Especially the computer wing. There's a great computer display.

  • It's a simple science experiment, and worthwhile to experience at least once. You are surprisingly buoyant in the dense water, compared to fresh water or ocean swimming.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:27AM (#38157776)

    On the west coast, the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Then drive down I-280 and see the SLAC – don't know if they have a visitors center. Over to Berkeley to see UCB. Moffett Field and 1 Infinite Loop Drive in the Sili Valley. Carry on south to L.A. and visit JPL – call to find out about seeing the museum in the visitor center – and Caltech; both in Pasadena.

    On the east coast Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, NC. The MIT museum and MIT, including the Infinite Corridor, in Cambridge.

    • SLAC has a visitor center and public tours. Some of the scientists / engineers there are also happy to show visitors around.
      --- Joe Frisch

  • If you are in Ill, and more appropriately Chi-town, you must go see Chicago museum of Science and industry. If you are coming out west, we have far too many active projects going on, so items will not be as available. However, I know that this is not science, but since you are driving and on your way west, you really should see the Grand Canyon. Now, there is a glass ledge in which you get to walk out on and OVER the canyon. You can do the same at the sears tower in chi-town(yeah, yeah, I know it was rename
  • by ridgecritter ( 934252 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:31AM (#38157806)

    National Atomic Museum at Kirtland AFB near Albuquerque, NM
    National Museum of the Air Force, at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, OH

  • South of Houston. You can even stop at the space-theme Fry's on the way down.

  • New Mexico stuff (Score:4, Informative)

    by shadowfaxcrx ( 1736978 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:33AM (#38157822)

    You said you'd be in New Mexico. There are lots of geek places to visit. Geologically, Carlsbad Caverns is incredible. By far the most impressive public-access cave I've ever been in. In addition to the VLA, there's Los Alamos (several museums dedicated to nuclear stuff), Cloudcroft (the solar observatory near there in Sunspot), Alamogordo's Museum of Space History, White Sands (largest gypsum-sand desert in the world. Nothing but blinding white as far as you can see), Valley of Fires - a huge ancient lava flow that you can walk around in/on. There's Bandelier outside of Santa Fe - the 10,000+ year old human cliff dweller settlement. Check their website before you go though - they've had issues with wildfires and flash floods, so what's open at any given day is in flux right now.

    If you want different geek fun, Roswell is always amusing with all their UFO stuff. Even the McDonalds is shaped like a flying saucer.

    There's more in the state too, like the lightning field, etc, but those suggestions should keep you busy for awhile.

  • I consider it a must see. If you you are into aviatin then Fantasy of Flight, the EAA museum in Lakeland FL. And the navy air museum. In Pensacola are all very good. If oceanograph is of interest Harbor Branch in Fort. Enev Pierce is worth a stop. Thing is the US is really big. Even I listed in Florida would take several days in not a week.

  • Don't forget Meteor Crater [] in AZ! For an added bonus, the Petrified Forest National Park [] is roughly 80 miles by road to the east.
  • Some scientific sites are either no longer existent, or not much to look at. Sure, there are paleontological sites and museums you can visit, but some places either aren't around or don't take visitors. For example, I visited the University of Chicago many years ago for something unrelated to its history and found that you cannot visit the site where they split the first atom because the site has been demolished long ago.

    A little more information could get a really good list going. And some insight int
  • The Lowell observatory [] has a nice property and good tour, including the telescope and the original photographic plates used to discover Pluto. If you're going to the Grand Canyon, it's pretty close. You can do it in a half-day. I suggest reading, "How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming" by Mike Brown to round out the experience (or the audiobook, since you're driving).
  • The Mütter Museum [] of medical oddities in Philadelphia is one that has been on my list for a long time. Haven't made it yet, but how can you not want to see the place that exhibits Einstein's brain?
  • If you are already going to be in New Mexico to see the Very Large Array, try to swing by the Carlsbad Caverns: []

    Sure, it's not tech-oriented, but I'm sure you can get your geology geeking on. It's not often one is in the area (BFE New Mexico), so take the opportunity. The caverns are not to be missed!

  • There are plenty of science museums throughout the country. The Association of Science - Technology Centers (ASTC) has more specific information, including a search engine, at []
    These museums run a range from natural history (Academy of Natural Sciences in Philly), science museums for the general public (Boston's Museum of Science), Planetariums (Barlow Planetarium at UW Fox Valley), harder science museums (Harvard museum of Natural History, Woods Hole Oceanographic,

  • Having been there around 2000 perhaps things have changed a little bit but... a) coming from the central/eastern part of the state, do not assume there are no coppers on that road. There are as my friend found out b) VLA is self guided. c) If you plan a bit better than we did you might be able to check out that lighting farm thing. d) there is only one place to stay in Quemado but there is/was a bar with a pool table. I think Grant AZ is the nearest "big" place and its a bit of a hike. We actually p

  • by mpsmps ( 178373 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:25PM (#38158710)

    The McDonald Observatory [] is way out in the middle of nowhere by design, so it might not seem worth hitting, but you shouldn't miss it. Placed at the highest point on the Texas highway system in the clear desert air and in a black-out zone where they keep people from 20 miles around from having lights on at night, you'll reliably see the best stars in the continental US. Come to a star party, and they have half a dozen telescopes set up on major sky sites 3 nights a week. A few times a year, you can view through either the 107 inch, 82 inch, or 36 inch research telescopes. Come during the day to tour the 433 inch telescope, one of the largest in the world. If you can, stay at the inexpensive Astronomer's Lodge [] and hang out with the astronomers doing research there.

    I heard about this through my mother (a former high-school English teacher) and took several days out of vacation (we live in Chicago) to travel there with my wife (an HR exec). Both of them thought it was fantastically worthwhile, so imagine how good it was for science geeks like us.

  • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:41PM (#38158902)

    At Lawrence Livermore Labs in California. []

    It would be on my list.

  • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:43PM (#38158918)

    Be sure to call places to see what is open to public. Many places that essentially had open access have clamped down on visitors.

    As for recommendations, what to see depends on what you're really interested. Any of the Smithsonian exhibits and the Ester-Hazy at Dulles are great for aerospace or industry buffs.

    Most NASA sites have museums; even better if you know someone who works there and can give you a behind the scenes tour.

    As a side note, there are also interesting things beyond the usual in most cities - Chicago has some of the world's greatest architecture as well as the best pizza anywhere.

  • by sdo1 ( 213835 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:45PM (#38158964) Journal

    Get this book... it's very good. []

    You may also know the author, John Graham-Cumming, as the guy who got the British government to apologize for their persecution of Alan Turing.


They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.