Image: Unraveling genes
Courtesy of the DOE Joint Genome Institute
At laboratories like the Joint Genome Institute, the human genome was deciphered. By organizing a tour, it's possible to see the machinery used for DNA sequencing and get a detailed explanation of how it all works from someone who works there. Tours are only during weekdays and have to be scheduled in advance.
updated 7/9/2009 8:52:43 AM ET 2009-07-09T12:52:43

Ever find yourself in between business meetings in some distant city with enough time to kill but no idea what to do?

If you're an innovator (or just someone who's passionate about science or technology), business trips can offer the opportunity to visit some of science's most fascinating destinations and prove inspirational.

Unfortunately, finding great scientific places to visit isn't as easy as finding the homes of long-dead poets, painters or writers. Call any tourist office around the world and ask about scientific, mathematical or technological attractions, and you'll be greeted with either a long silence or a short list of the obvious famous science museums. This is a pity, because if there's one thing that makes science stand apart, it's the willingness of scientists to freely share what they do.

For years I traveled on business around the U.S. and elsewhere and faced the same boredom as many of my fellow road warriors. But every time I could, I sneaked off (or dragged a colleague along) to a local scientific or technological site for a side trip. And in doing so I got to take little educational breaks on company time.

The upshot of all this traveling is my book, "The Geek Atlas", which covers 128 places around the world where science, technology and mathematics come alive.

Some of the places in the book are well off the beaten track. Not many business travelers will get a chance to hunt down the ever-moving Magnetic North Pole, or stay up until the middle of the night in Fairbanks, Alaska, to see the Aurora Borealis. But there are plenty that are a short rental car drive from major business destinations, and many of them are both fascinating and virtually unknown.

Many times when traveling on business, I've been asked by clients what I was doing after the meeting. Everyone's interested in how you find their city or state, and I've given a few people surprises by mentioning that I was off to see a fascinating museum or place that they never knew existed.

Image: From Ada to Xerox
Courtesy of the Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum is free and stuffed with old and new technology. There's everything from a Hollerith Tabulator used for the 1890 U.S. Census to Cray supercomputers.
One chilly February, I had to drive from a business meeting in Washington, D.C., to another in Baltimore with a colleague. Since we had time to kill I suggested we stop into a tiny museum that people probably think shouldn't exist: the National Security Agency's own National Cryptologic Museum.

My colleague, Roman, had left the Soviet Union for a life in the United States and was stunned to find himself face-to-face with a KGB officer's uniform at the museum. It was a rich and fulfilling hour, and so much more enjoyable than cooling our heels in a local Denny's.

It's not often you get a chance to turn a business trip into a trip down memory lane for a colleague or to surprise a client with a new discovery about their home city. But the world is full of fascinating scientific and technological sites to discover, if you know where to look.

John Graham-Cumming is a wandering programmer who's lived on two continents, worked for multiple start-ups and written uncountable lines of code (in the form of the award-winning open source POPFile e-mail program) and of prose. His recent book,The Geek Atlas, is available through O'Reilly Media. Because he has a doctorate in computer security, he's deeply suspicious of people who insist on being called Dr., but doesn't mind if you refer to him as a geek.

© 2012


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