Istanbul Museum of The History of Science & Technology in Islam

We couldn’t find any science museum in Istanbul, so we tried this history museum instead.  The best thing about this museum was the building and artwork.  There are great rugs on the walls (which didn’t seem to be part of any exhibit), and the building itself is interesting.  It is long and narrow, built against a wall near the Topkapi Palace.  Inside, the palace wall is exposed in several places.

We were disappointed with the exhibits.  The objects were cool looking, but there was almost no explanation provided.  Given that this is not a science museum, it is somewhat understandable that it didn’t go into how things worked.  For example, there were scale models of huge sextants and other tools for astronomical observation, but no explanation of what a sextant is used for or how it works.  But as a history museum, it also falls flat by not providing historical context for the significance of the inventions, discoveries, and feats of engineering on exhibit.

Rating: As this isn’t a science museum, we won’t assign a rating.  Suffice it to say, at least admission is only $2.50.

Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, PA)


Matt and I visited the Franklin Institute a few weeks ago on a rainy Saturday.  The building is quite imposing.  Definitely the most serious-looking science museum I have been to.  After walking past the giant Ben Franklin statue in the rotunda, we checked out exhibits about sports, our changing earth, electricity, machines, and our bodies.  We also walked through a giant heart, thump thump!  Overall, the Franklin Institute is a cool, old building, but we were unimpressed with the exhibits.  Oh well.

Rating:  Mushroom (2/5)

American Museum of Natural History (New York City)


We checked out the American Museum of Natural History in New York City when Matt visited in October!  “Natural history” is a funny term.  It makes me think of that shop, Paxton’s Gate, on Valencia, and of greenhouses filled with exotic plants. Parts of the museum reminded me of those things, particularly the spectacular dioramas filled with big game!  The museum is impressive.  We spent at least an hour and a half marveling at dinosaur bones on the fourth floor.  Then, another forty-five minutes gawking at the dioramas.  Old-fashioned and spectacular.  Don’t miss it!

Rating:  Alien (5/5)

Miraikan, Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Tokyo, Japan)

(via JNTO)

There are two science museums in Tokyo, and we chose to visit the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation because it was supposed to have more English displays.  As you can probably tell from the name, the museum focuses on new ideas in science.  Instead of the usual interactive physics and biology displays, the museum had extensive exhibits about robots, space, and disease.  We saw a demonstration of ASIMO (creepy, surreal), walked through a partial replica of the international space station, and went to the special Doreamon exhibit on the future of human-robot interaction.  The building itself is beautiful — filled with light and space.  There is also a domed theater showing several movies throughout the day.  While the idea of the museum is pretty cool, we were pretty disappointed with the exhibits.  They seemed to lack substance and depth!

Rating:  (2/5)

Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA)


My firm’s holiday party was at the Exploratorium this year, which meant that I had to go for the sake of this blog :)  The Exploratorium is in a beautiful part of the city — near the Palace of Fine Arts and Crissy Field.  Although there were many interactive exhibits, some of them were broken, and I had seen many of them ten years ago.  The exhibits covered biology (a live sheep’s eye dissection), the usual physics stuff, as well as some random topics like an exhibit on “cuteness.”  This is a nice place to visit if you’re already in the Marina, but there wasn’t anything super-special about the museum.

Rating:  Fish (3/5)

Deutsches Museum (Munich, Germany)

(photo from wikimedia commons)

I visited the Deutsches Museum in 2007.  It’s enormous and amazing.  They have a huge hall of airplanes, and another of electricity, in which they have an electrical demonstration.  They had the standard lightning, but they shot it *through* (actually, around) a 2″ plate of glass.  Also, the demonstrators wore white lab coats and spoke in German (like the guy in the “Unpimp Your Ride” VW commercials — “representing deutschland” :-)

There was a hall devoted to bridges and waterworks.  There were tons of types of model bridges, with text (in English and German) explaining how they worked, when they were invented, etc.  I learned that advances in “falsework” (scaffolding raised around the bridge while it’s being constructed) enabled many of the designs we see today.  And they had an awesome indoor pedestrian bridge of a design I’d never seen — a curved, stressed ribbon suspension bridge, supported by a single post and a cable running beneath the walkway.  It also had a display showing a real-time graph of the tension in each of the supporting members.

There are also a huge number of historic artifacts — planes and electrical equipment, including the first electric dynamo, the first automobile, the first diesel engine, the first motorized airplane, and the laboratory bench where the atom was first split.  In the courtyard are water turbines, “installed outdoors since they weigh between 15 and 44 tons and exceed by far the loading capacity of the museum building’s floors”!

This museum has a really different feel from other science museums.  It’s much more technical, showing how science is applied to engineering.  It’s the only science museum I’ve been to where I learned something at every exhibit.  Most of the museum is not as child-oriented as most science museums, but they do have an entire hall devoted to children’s exhibits.

Surprisingly, there weren’t many other visitors when I was there.  That’s unfortunate, because this is the most incredible science museum I’ve ever been to.  I didn’t have time to see all of it, and I’ll definitely return if I get the chance!

Rating:  Alien (5/5)

Chabot Space & Science Center (Oakland, CA)

(via herecomestheguide)

The Chabot Space and Science Center is located in a beautiful regional park in the Oakland Hills.  (You can even camp there!)  Obviously, the museum is space-focused, with rinky-dink exhibits on outer space and space flight memorabelia.  Admission comes with TWO shows — one planeterium and one IMAX show.  Perhaps overkill.  However, the museums features three large telescopes, with free viewings every Friday and Saturday night.  Bad.  Ass.

Rating:  Fish (3/5)