Over the years, tourism has expanded from conventional destinations to niche getaways, cherished by a small section of visitors. One of the segments with a large potential is a tour of destinations of scientific significance, which have started attracting regular tourists as well as science buffs and students.
Science tourism, a niche segment of the industry, has gained popularity over the last decade. From just scholars and researchers visiting the top-notch research centres, museums, observatories, laboratories and institutes, to the rising curiosity of layman in the mysteries of science, there has been a paradigm shift. Besides these attractions, tourists are also opting for those destinations where they can experience or witness natural events of scientific nature such as solar eclipse or the bioluminescent waters. Destinations like Patagonia in South America have even started utilising science tourism as a tool for promoting sustainable development in remote mountains. Here are some of the attractions with the dose of science added to them.
CERN, Geneva, Switzerland
A door to the secret world of particle physics, many may recognise this European organisation for nuclear research, through the 2007 film Angels and Devils, parts of which were shot here. CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, again attracted the eyeballs with its controversial research in 2012 on the god-like particle, Higgs Boson. The organisation is open to pre-booked tours, which introduce visitors to the dynamics of particle physics as well as its place in everyday life. Established in 1954, the research centre is no less than a science fiction set up with exposed steel pipes running along the ceilings, shiny linoleum floors and the doors made of moulded wood. The two permanent exhibitionsUniverse of Particles Exhibition and Microcosm exhibition offer interactive exhibits on the subject.
The guides leading these tours, are often themselves working in the organisation and are holders of doctorate degrees in physics. A particular hit amongst the visitors is the ATLAS detector, a giant machine equipped with latest technology that was used in discovery of Higgs Boson, the god-like particle, in 2012. The guides also take visitors to show them interesting places related to major discoveries within the centre, such as the discovery of the internet. The centre is 20 minutes by bus from Geneva train station.
Musée Curie, Paris
The Musée Curie, situated in 15th arrondissement of French capital Paris, is a testament to the discovery of radioactivity and the subsequent discovery of its harmful impacts. Originally a laboratory owned by Marie Curie and her husband Pierre Curie, who jointly won the Nobel Prize for discovering radioactivity, the place was converted into a museum in 1934, after Marie Curie’s death due to constant exposure to radioactive elements. The discovery revolutionised the healthcare scenario with instant X-ray facilities available in make-shift kiosks during the second world war, all thanks to the Curies.
The laboratory used for research on radioactivity, situated within the museum, is open to public and offers an insight into equipment used during the period. Many of Marie’s belongings including books, notes and souvenirs are also well preserved. On display are also objects of daily use, such as toothpaste and face-powder with radioactive elements in them.
Curie’s personal notes that are radioactive even now, over 80 years after her death, can be accessed with prior permission from the Centre of Historical Resources of the Curie Museum. The museum is a particular hit amongst the historians, teachers and doctors, who often visit the place for the archives of the Radium Institute and the Curie Foundation, besides the papers on history of radiology and oncology, for their studies. The museum offers guided tours in both French and English for the visitors and can be visited from Wednesday to Saturday.
Charles Darwin’s Research Centre, Galapagos Island, Ecuador
While islands have always fascinated tourists, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador stand apart. An archipelago of three main and six smaller islands surrounded by hundreds of rocky islets, the place holds a special significance in evolutionary biology. It is in this World Heritage Site that the famous biologist Charles Darwin performed experiments and proposed the theory of evolution. Often labelled as a living laboratory, the archipelago is home to many species that are different from the usual, believed to have evolved differently from their counterparts owing to the harsh geographical conditions here. A common sight here is sea horses, undeterred by human presence, lying next to the giant tortoises weighing as much as 27 kg with their carapaces nearly 1.2 metre.
The world’s third smallest penguin roaming freely and the fascinating black rocks decorated with hundreds of iguanas is also an everyday story. The Charles Darwin’s Research Centre established here has been a base centre for research on evolutionary biology, volcanology and marine biology. The centre regularly organises workshops and seminars to promote ecological and environmental education among the tourists as well as locals. The famous Galapagos National Park is also situated nearby and the guides often bring the visitors to the centre for a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of this place and the science behind it.
Botanical garden, Singapore
The 19th century old Botanical Garden of Singapore, just five minutes from the bustling Orchard Road, is a perfect cocktail of heritage and plant sciences. The garden, built for cultivation and study of fruits and vegetables, is home to more than 10,000 species of plants at present. Several important discoveries and techniques, such as the extraction of rubber from plants, took place here.
The botanical research here continues till date and attracts botanists and plant lovers from across the globe. A UNESCO recognised World Heritage Site, the Botanical Garden puts on a platter, for visitors, an ingrown rainforest, heritage museum, interactive multimedia exhibits and galleries.
The Singapore Herbarium and Library of Botany and Horticulture, situated within the complex, are famous worldwide. The garden organises guided tours every Saturday, with a pre-decided theme such as Japanese rainforest tour, gallop tour and healing garden tour. While most of these tours are free of cost, some of them are chargeable. The gardens also offer a professional study exchange/visit programme for botanists, taxonomists, tertiary-level students and professional staff working in botanical gardens, herbaria, arboreta/forest departments and educational institutions.
European Southern Observatory, Atacama
Against the backdrop of magnificent Andes mountains, within the Llano de Chajnantor plateau of Atacama desert, stand several high- tech telescopes, aiming to capture the mysteries of universe. These high-resolution ALMA telescopes, all pointing towards the same direction, make for quite a site. Otherwise an inhospitable, dry region standing about 5,000 metres above the sea level, the ALMA telescope site attracts several science buffs throughout the year.
Though the telescopes themselves cannot be visited due to security reasons, one can head to the ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF) of European Southern Observatory, situated 35km from the site, from where these telescopes are operated. While here, the tourists get to visit the control room, laboratories and the antennas under maintenance. At times, the transportation of antennas can also be observed. Guided tours in the presence of top notch-scientists working here, can be availed on weekends. Though, the tours are free of cost, they require a registration in advance.