Nerd Tourism, It’s A Thing

If you’re travelling with a scientist on vacation, expect to be dragged to interesting places off the beaten path.

Alice TSSS 5

AsianScientist (Feb. 9, 2015) – A colleague of mine recently came back from an extended vacation in Italy and we had a discussion on what was her favorite city of the trip. Expecting her to name a location such as Rome or Venice, she surprised me by nominating Bolzano, a relatively small town in the north of Italy.

When asked about her choice, she said that while the city was very picturesque, the true appeal to her was the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, which is home to Ötzi the Iceman. While archaeology is not her area of research expertise, she confirmed that Bolzano was specifically included so that she could visit the museum as she remembered the news reports concerning the discovery of the 5,000 year old body when she was a child, and has kept an eye on reports regarding the scientific analysis of Ötzi’s body, clothes, diet and modern genetic links.

Must-see museums, the macabre and more

As more people joined our conversation, this got us onto the topic of what we started to call ‘Nerd Tourism’—places that are visited because something about it appeals to our nerdy interests. Obvious places in this list are of course museums, with many people listing places such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York or the British Museum in London, but this was also extended to more specific places or exhibits such as the Terracotta Army Museum in Xi’an or the Heineken Beer Museum in Amsterdam. Less obvious places that people had either visited or said they knew someone who visited included the St. Petersburg Sex Museum, where you can apparently see Rasputin’s mummified penis.

And maybe it’s because my colleagues are biologists but locations and exhibitions featuring dead bodies featured highly on this list. Along with seeing Ötzi, my friend said she visited or tried to see the Capuchin crypt in Rome, the ruins of Pompeii, and the catacombs of Palermo. Many colleagues had also visited the Père Lachaise Cemetery and the catacombs in Paris, seen the travelling Body Worlds exhibition that features plastinated dissected humans and animals, while others who had journeyed to Egypt said seeing the mummies and death mask of Tutankhamen were a must.

Perhaps the most macabre was the colleague who visited an art gallery in a former palace in Rome, and found that the altar in the family chapel contained the mummified body of a ‘saint’ that was vaguely visible—it was the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj for those who are curious!

Scientific sightseeing, indoors and out

Scientific artifacts, institutions or famous oddspots featured highly on the list. Someone admitted that they paid a visit to the Wellcome Collection in London and had a complete nerd freak out when they saw the first print out of the entire human genome. Another said that they upon visiting Cambridge University, they made a deliberate visit to The Eagle Pub, where Francis Crick announced that he and James Watson their proposal for the double helix structure of DNA.

Another colleague (an American) said that when visiting Oxford, they made a special trip to visit Christ Church College where several scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed, and also to the Turf Tavern, the pub where Bill Clinton claimed to have ‘smoked but not inhaled’—but that’s something else completely!

But while many scientists are indoor types, not all of us like to vacation in cities and visit museums. Various natural sights featured highly on the nerd tourist list for those who preferred to be in the great outdoors. Places that had been visited or were on the visit list for my colleagues included the Grand Canyon, seeing the Northern Lights, and the Amazon rainforest where a colleague said she saw people ‘fishing’ for piranhas using raw chicken.

There were natural sights that were a little less well known such as the Jurassic Coast of Dorset where a colleague decided to pick up some fossils. And then there were extra special places that had been visited by extra special people. A friend told the story of a friend of theirs who visited the acidic hot pools of Iceland… and took the opportunity to collect various specimens. We would now like to warn all readers of Asian Scientist Magazine that it is actually illegal to take samples from Iceland and discourage them from doing so!

Nerds around the world

Vacation is a great time to enjoy various nerd pursuits that may not be the focus of our daily lives. So scientists, if you want to spend your holiday time visiting Studio Ghibli in Tokyo, the Perfume Museum in Cologne, gazing at the stars from the Australian desert, looking at little model cities in any of the LEGOlands scattered all over the world, or being strangely hypnotized by the jellyfish in an aquarium, take a good look at the crowd around you. Chances are that everyone else is also doing that little happy nerd dance inside.

This article is from a monthly column called The Sometimes Serious Scientist. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Nick Garrod/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Alice Ly is a postdoctoral researcher in Germany. She completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne, and has a BSc in Pathology (First Class Hons) and BA (Art History). She enjoys microscopy, cakes, photos of puppies, and removing warm items from the incubator.

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