Science Tourism: Philadelphia
So I thought I’d start off this series with Philadelphia… a spot near and dear to me as resident.
This statues, the Rocky Statue, can be found at the foot of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Besides, Philadelphia is rich with history, culture, great food and so much more. I’m not going to try to list out all of the Philly museums and sites, just the ones I find interesting from a scientists point of view… my scientist point of view. When visiting, you should of course visit the Philadelphia Art Museum, Rodin Museum, the many murals that can be found all over the city, the Liberty Bell, and definitely the Barnes Foundation. Chock full of universities and history, Philadelphia can’t help but be an awesome destination for science tourism.
There are a lot of museums in Philly. Here are my science picks:
- Mütter Museum – My first Top Top Top pick for the list and one of my favorite museums ever… America’s finest museum of medical history, the Mütter displays its beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments in a 19th century “cabinet museum” setting. The goal of the Museum is to help the public understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body while appreciating the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.
- The Franklin Institute – One of the oldest science museums in the country. An innovator in designing hands-on exhibits before “interactive” became a buzzword, The Franklin Institute is as clever as its namesake. Its eminently touchable attractions explore science in disciplines ranging from sports to space. Here you can walk through large heart, learning about the circulatory system and ride a tight rope on a bike.
- Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is America’s oldest natural history museum and a world leader in biodiversity and environmental research. For 200 years, the Academy has explored the remarkable diversity of our natural world, sharing these discoveries with the public through extraordinary collections, innovative exhibits, educational programming, and publications.
- Adventure Aquarium The fifth largest aquarium in the country, Adventure Aquarium features nearly 200,000 square feet of marine and wild life, including hippos, a hammerhead shark and more. If you are visiting in the summer or warmer months, take the ferry from Philadelphia to Camden to visit the aquarium… great sight seeing ride and at a fair price.
- The Philadelphia Insectarium – In 1991, Steve Kanya, owner of Steve’s Wildlife & Pest Control, found a way to tease the business owners across the street, who hated insects. He put a 55-gallon aquarium in his window to display “the catch of the day,” such as a rat or scorpion. Neighbors started coming by to marvel and a light bulb went off. A year later, Kanya opened the Insectarium, the only insect museum in the tristate area.
- AIA Bookstore & Design Center Into architecture? The AIA Bookstore and Design Center is a recognized leader in architecture books, AIA Contract Documents, personal and executive gifts, and creative childrens’ toys. The bookstore is operated by the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, one of the oldest Chapters of the AIA.
- American Philosophical Society Museum In 1743, when Benjamin Franklin and his friends decided to establish the American Philosophical Society (APS), they studied the natural world and called themselves natural philosophers. Now we’d call them scientists. But the word “philosophical” stuck. Snuggled behind the east wing of Independence Hall is Philosophical Hall, a brick building erected in the late 1780s that was our nation’s first museum, national library and academy of science. Inside, changing exhibitions highlight the intersections of science, history and art. Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Lewis and Clark journals are among the important documents, scientific specimens, patent models, portraits, maps, rare books and manuscripts that comprise this remarkable collection.
- Chemical Heritage Foundation In the early 1980s, a group of science professionals came together and determined that the country needed an organization devoted to the chemical and molecular sciences and industries. And really, what better scientific city than Philadelphia — the home of Benjamin Franklin and electricy — to be the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s home base? Thus, in 1982, the CHF was born in Philadelphia.
- University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – If you called its 12-ton Egyptian sphinx “one in a million,” you’d be right: It is just one in a collection of nearly a million objects at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, one of the world’s finest archaeological/anthropological museums.
- Rosenbach Museum The Rosenbach Museum & Library was founded in 1954 through a testamentary gift by Dr. A.S.W.Rosenbach (1876-1952) and his brother, Philip (1863-1953). Renowned dealers in books, manuscripts, and ﬁne art, the brothers played a central role in the development of private libraries that later became our nation’s most important public collections of rare books, such as the Folger and Huntington Libraries. Currently showing Maurice Sendak’s (Where the Wild Things Are) revolutionary work and artistic talent in this landmark exhibition, displaying more than 65 drawings from his 65-year career.
- Fairmount Water Works – The nation’s first municipal water treatment center, The Fairmount Water Works, one of Philadelphia’s architectural icons, now is an exciting combination of environmental education, architectural history and cultural heritage.
- Fireman’s Hall Philadelphia – Nestled in the narrow streets of Philadelphia’s historic district, Fireman’s Hall is dedicated to the art and science of firefighting through the last three centuries.
- Free Library of Philadelphia – A stunning Beaux-Arts building along the culture-heavy Benjamin Franklin Parkway serves as the hub for the Free Library of Philadelphia, which includes 50 branches around the region. When architects Horace Trumbauer’s and Julian Francis Abele’s building on Logan Circle opened in 1927, rare books were collected elsewhere in town. The Central Branch of the public library soon became a popular repository for everything from Sumerian cuneiform tablets to the works of Beatrix Potter. When the entire library of William McIntire Elkins, including the room that housed it, was given to the library in 1949, the Rare Book collection grew into a full-fledged department. And there are often some awesome talks open to the public.
- Museum of Mourning Art – Talked about on NPR and the NYT… it’s an odd sort of museum. Also, make an appointment to see it. Housed in a modern building modeled after Mount Vernon, the museum shows us how people have coped with death through the ages.
- Physick House – Dr. Philip Syng Physick, the “Father of American Surgery.” Dr. Physick took up residence in the house in 1815 after separating from his wife, Elizabeth Emlen Physick, and lived there until his death in 1837. One of the foremost surgeons of the time, Dr. Physick was among the few courageous doctors who remained in the city to care for the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. Among his many patients were John Adams’ daughter, Dolly Madison, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and Chief Justice John Marshall. President Andrew Jackson consulted Dr. Physick about lung hemorrhages and was told to stop smoking. Many of Physick’s medical accomplishments were years ahead of his time. He pioneered use of the stomach pump, used autopsy as a regular means of observation and discovery, excelled in cataract surgery, and was responsible for the design of a number of surgical instruments and operative techniques. Dr. Physick was affiliated with America’s first hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital, and was one of the most sought-after medical lecturers of the 19th century.
- United States Mint – Visitors get to watch operations on the mint floor – from high above and behind protective glass, to be sure. Interactive displays depict the many presidential and honorary commemoratives designed and made here. You’ll also see early mint and coining equipment and rare and historic coins.
- Wagner Free Institute of Science – An unusual natural science and history museum in its original Victorian setting.
Chemical Heritage Festival Events – including Science on Tap and many more.
Philadelphia Science Festival – The Philadelphia Science Festival is a ten-day, community-wide celebration of science that takes place annually in April, featuring lectures, debates, hands-on activities, special exhibitions and a variety of other informal science education experiences for Philadelphians of all ages.
Philadelphia Nerd Nite – Basically, a nerd will get up and speak about nerd things in front of nerds about nerdy things… with beer.
Secret Cinema – Secret Cinema is a growing community of all who love cinema, experience and the unknown. Secret audience. Secret locations. Secret worlds. Showing found footage of very old films from and around Philadelphia.
Mega Bad Movie Night – Get together with other nerds to watch some really bad movies in a very MST:3K kinda way. Last one I saw was Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus and it was awesome.
Geekadelphia Events – A great guide to anything and everything geeky in Philadelphia.
Some things are more geared toward children…
Please Touch Museum The city’s award-winning children’s museum is fun-filled, totally hands-on, and so delightful that adults are entertained, too. Each nook and cranny has a different theme — from the fantastic to the practical.
The Philadelphia Zoo It’s the zoo, that’s self explanatory… however, I’ll mention here even though it’s under “kids” that they do have an annual beer festival… where you get to drink beer and sample foods while visiting the zoo. Pretty awesome.
There are other places to visit that aren’t really museums…
- When you visit the Mütter, don’t forget to stop by the gardens next to it. These gardens are not only beautiful, but also full of medicinal herbs with names and description of actions. Wonderful to stroll through it.
- Ben Franklin is memorialized in Isamu Noguchi’s Bolt of Lightning, a giant steel sculpture representing Franklin’s famous kite-flying experiment found at N. 6th St. & Race St.
- Eastern State Penitentiary Eastern State Penitentiary set the standard for penal reform, with its soaring, castle-like Gothic architecture and its founders’ Quaker-inspired belief that solitary confinement could reform criminals. It should also be noted that on Bastille Day: Eastern State Penitentiary teams with The Bearded Ladies cabaret group to present one of Philadelphia’s largest free theatrical performances, which culminates with a playful reenactment of the Storming of the Bastille (influenced more by Monty Python than the actual French Revolution). Tastykakes are thrown… let them eat Tastykake! Also, for Halloween, their “Terror Behind the Walls” haunted prison tour is pretty fun and scary.
- Monell Chemical Senses Center – At the Monell Center, scientists from many disciplines work together to focus on understanding the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell and define the broad significance of these senses in human health and disease. It’s the words only independent, non-profit scientific institute dedicated to basic research on taste and smell. It’s also where I did my postdoc! Visit the front of the building to see Alren Love’s Face Fragment statue – A giant, gilded mouth and nose, this sculpture will surely catch your eye, but it was designed as a tribute to other senses — namely, smell and taste, the research interests of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. Sculptor Arlene Love often favors partial figures, which allow her to concentrate on what she considers the essential nature of the subject.
- Longwood Gardens – For the Botanic Buffs out there, When you’re at Longwood Gardens, it’s easy to imagine that you’re at a giant, royal garden in Europe. Stroll along the many paths through acres of exquisitely maintained grounds featuring 11,000 different types of plants.
- National Mechanics – Philadelphia’s first bank for the working and artist class. Mechanics’ National Bank building has been the proud home of many establishments in its 200 years of existence. Today, it houses the wildly popular bar, National Mechanics. Great atmosphere, food and drinks. Also home to Science on Tap events.
- Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens – One man’s junk… Covering an indoor and outdoor space equivalent to half a city block, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens glisten with creativity, urban renaissance and a hint of madness.
- The Comcast Center – Okay, to some degree and according to some (Philebrity)… this could jokingly be called “The People’s Republic of Comcast., but I digress. Standing at a robust 975 feet tall, the newly opened Comcast Center is the tallest building in Philadelphia. And with its ambitious incorporation of eco-friendly technologies, the Center is also the tallest “green” building in the country. But it also features “The Comcast Experience,” a 2,000 square-foot LED screen projecting computer-generated images so realistic, you’ll think they’re jumping out of the wall. With a resolution 500% greater than that of an HD television, the Experience is a remarkable technological and artistic achievement. The video wall, a giant HD video screen that is actually the largest four-millimeter LED screen in the world, is located right in the building’s publicly accessible main lobby, so everyone can enjoy it.
This may be a work in progress. So if you know of something I’ve missed, please feel free to comment and suggest more science-related sight seeing in Philadelphia!
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