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Bazinga! A Travel Guide to Amazing Scientific Experiences

young-boy-pretending-to-be-a-mad-scientist
Mark Silvester
Written by Mark Silvester

From splitting atoms, to discovering new species, to marveling at the world’s most powerful machines, science is positively awe-inspiring! And for many travelers, exploring the world from a scientific point of view is the secret to an extraordinary vacation. Because let’s face it: culture, art, and cuisine are the staples of a trip anywhere, whereas an investment in knowledge can sometimes pay the best interest.

So if you’re ready to expand your frequent flyer miles as well as your mind, then why not dig in to your next holiday … with an extra side of science? Check out these awesome natural and scientific destinations that are sure to bring out the Dr. Sheldon Cooper in you!

The Cutting Edge of Physics

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Image via Flickr CC – HoangP

There’s no question that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) pushes the very boundaries of scientific knowledge. Located along the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN) is home to the world’s largest machine and most powerful particle accelerator. The LHC is a 27km-long, ring-shaped tunnel that sits 100m underground and is mainly made of superconducting magnets. It accelerates protons down the tunnel and the resulting collisions create new matter. Visitors to CERN will be awestruck by exhibitions that shed light on its work and a two-hour guided tour (in English) that delves deeper into the issues CERN’s physicists are trying to solve. Reserve your spot online well in advance (15 days) and be sure to a bring a photo ID. The most incredible part? Admission and tours are free!

An Unexplored Underwater Trench

Idabel the submarine getting ready to submerge

Image via Flickr CC – Mark Yokoyama

Down in the darkest depths of the ocean lurk lifeforms beyond imagination. A whole new world of bright and translucent creatures that are so weird they need to be seen to be believed. And funnily enough, you can do just that. You can explore planet Earth’s final frontier and witness a wide variety of deep sea animal life that has rarely been encountered by humans, all in comfort and safety, through a submarine’s large plexiglass bubble. On the Caribbean island of Roatan, Honduras, is where you’ll find Captain Karl Stanley’s deep sea diving submarine, Idabel. Illuminating depths down to 2,000 feet below the surface, Idabel examines the unexplored Cayman Trench and sheds light on some extraordinary marine life, including the elusive six-gilled shark. Prices to climb aboard start as low as $400 per person.

A Prehistoric Underground Salt Mine

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Image via Flickr CC – eric wittman

If you’ve always wanted to journey to the center of the Earth but didn’t know how, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum has you covered. Also known as Strataca, this massive salt mine in Hutchinson, Kansas, will have you exploring cavernous tunnels more than 650 feet below the ground. While you won’t run into any Morlocks, you will be amazed as you wander the glittering halls of what 275 million years ago was the bed of a Permian Age sea. With a variety of fascinating exhibits, visitors can learn the mechanics of a salt mine, venture into impenetrable darkness on the “dark” tram ride, or examine a 250 million-year-old salt crystal in which a living bacterium was discovered in 1998. Open Tuesday to Sunday, this is the only active salt mine in North America that’s open to the public. Admission is $14 and comes with a souvenir piece of salt.  

The Quietest Place in the World

 

 

 

 

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Image via Flickr CC – Scott Theede

Imagine being in a place so quiet, you can actually hear your food digest. A place so intensely absent of sound, that if you stand in there for longer than 45 minutes you will most likely hear your heartbeat, your ears ringing, and the sounds of your shoulder and leg joints moving. Well, such a place exists and it can be found at the Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Anechoic (meaning echo free) Test Chamber is actually used by various manufacturers such as Whirlpool, to test product volume and sound quality. Encased in 3.3-foot-thick fiberglass acoustic wedge, double walls of insulated steel, and a foot-thick concrete, the room successfully absorbs 99.99% of sound. To put this in perspective, a young human with perfect hearing may hear sounds as low as zero decibels. An average conversation runs at about 65 decibels and a typical quiet bedroom at night measures at about 30 decibels. 

The background noise in the chamber has been measured at an impressive -13 (dBA) decibels and over -23 dBA for short periods!

Due to popular demand, Orfield Laboratories now offer guided tours, when business permits, to the public where visitors can experience its eerie silence. Tickets range from $250 up and need to be paid two weeks in advance of your visit. And while it might seem a bit pricey, just remember that silence is golden.

The Most Advanced Supercomputer Open to the Public

blue-waters-supercomputer

Image via Flickr CC – kosheahan

You’d think that one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world would be in an ultra secure top-secret government building? Or perhaps in an evil scientist’s hollowed-out volcano lair? Well, Blue Waters at the National Petascale Computing Facility on the University of Illinois campus is a supercomputer that can be freely visited by anyone with a passion for computing and some serious storage space.

This massive supercomputer uses hundreds of thousands of computational cores across 300 tall black cabinets to achieve a terrifically absurd peak performance of 13.34 petaflops.

Which in layman’s terms, translates into more than 13 quadrillion calculations per second. And that’s just a start, the machine has enough storage space to hold all of the printed documents in all of the world’s libraries and, can store 10 percent of all of the words spoken in the existence of humankind. So push up your glasses and prepare to have your mind blown, because you can get up close and personal to the number-crunching monoliths of this supercomputer. Tours are free and by request, lasting around 30 minutes.

The Most Accurate Clock in the World

If you’re a nerdy traveler and on your way to see the Smithsonian Institute (a group of museums with a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an insect zoo, the Wright Brothers’ plane and various other historic and geeky artifacts) in Washington D.C., then why not stop by the United States Naval Observatory’s Master Clock and set your watch to the most accurate timepiece in the world? The Master Clock has the most sophisticated pendulums ever built and carefully counts the “swings” of atoms’ radiation with a precision unknown anywhere else in the universe. Everything from the world’s GPS systems to the clock on your phone is regulated by the Master Clock’s precise time-keeping services. And while the Naval Observatory is closed to the public, you can still see the Master Clock time on a large digital display outside the front gate. Which is all you need for you to pay your respects to the almighty time-keeper.

Have you had a vacation with an extra side of science? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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About the author

Mark Silvester

Mark Silvester

From Australia, skateboarder/explorer.

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