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Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler

David Schoonmaker

GUIDEBOOK FOR THE SCIENTIFIC TRAVELER: Visiting Physics and Chemistry Sites Across America. Duane S. Nickell. Rutgers University Press, $19.95.

2010-07SchoonmakerFA.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageAs enthusiastic as I am about science, I’m not likely to plan an entire vacation around it. Nonetheless, whenever I travel for business or pleasure, side trips to learn some science history or see it in action are high on my list of diversions. Enter Duane S. Nickell’s emerging series, Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler, the second volume of which—Visiting Physics and Chemistry Sites Across America—just came out.

Appropriately, the book is organized to focus first on the physicists and chemists themselves. Benjamin Franklin and activities in and near Philadelphia lead the way, but we also visit the homes of a dozen other equally important but perhaps less well known figures, including Joseph Henry and Irving Langmuir.

Once the heroes are covered, Nickell walks us through important research universities (such as MIT, above), national laboratories, particle accelerators, nuclear weapons facilities and science museums. Some will come as no surprise—anyone would expect to find the likes of Caltech, Fermilab, Los Alamos, Hoover Dam and the Exploratorium. But what these entries lack in novelty they more than make up for in detail. I’ve been to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry dozens of times, but Nickell’s public-transportation directions would have come in handy on my most recent visit.

The book also offers a treasure trove of sites previously unknown to me. I’ve often driven by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on visits to Golden, Colorado, but not until I read Nickell’s guide did I learn that it gets its electricity from wind turbines in Northern Colorado and has a visitor’s center. Next time I’m there, I plan to stop by.

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