Science and Physics in Washington, D.C.

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Jones, Andrew Zimmerman. "Science and Physics in Washington, D.C." ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2016, thoughtco.com/science-and-physics-in-washington-d-c-4069967. Jones, Andrew Zimmerman. (2016, September 1). Science and Physics in Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/science-and-physics-in-washington-d-c-4069967 Jones, Andrew Zimmerman. "Science and Physics in Washington, D.C." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/science-and-physics-in-washington-d-c-4069967 (accessed September 22, 2017).
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National Academy of Sciences Building

The National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C. Much of the building is surrounded by trees, so this is the most visible angle. Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Sept. 2009

In addition to the large number of political and historical memorials and sites in Washington, D.C., there are a number of science-related locations which are also nice to visit. Though some of the locations are obvious, the science might be a bit more surprising. For example, I didn't know that the National Museum of American History had a large section of the first floor devoted to science and invention.

Here's a brief list of some scientific sites to visit in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area:

  • National Academy of Sciences (including the Einstein Memorial statue)
  • Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History (Science in American Life, Invention at Play, & Spark!Lab exhibits)
  • Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (see also the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport)

The National Academy of Sciences building was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924, saying that the "magnificent building now being dedicated to science predicts a new day in scientific research."

National Academy of Sciences
500 Fifth St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

The inscription in the dome of the Academy's Great Hall says:

To science, pilot of industry, conqueror of disease, multiplier of the harvest, explorer of the universe, revealer of nature's laws, eternal guide to truth.

02
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Albert Einstein Memorial

The Einstein Memorial at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C. Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Sept. 2009

In Washington, D.C., just a few blocks away from the Lincoln Memorial is the National Academy of Sciences building. Located in a small grove nearby is this touching Memorial to Albert Einstein. If I lived in or near Washington, I think this would be one of my favorite spots to sit and think. Even though you're only a few blocks away from a very busy street, you feel as if you're very secluded.

The statue is sitting on a stone bench, which is inscribed with three powerful quotes by Albert Einstein:

As long as I have any choice in the matter, I shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality of all citizens before the law prevail.

Joy and amazement of the beauty and grandeur of this world of which man can just form a faint notion ...

The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.

On the ground beneath the bench is a circular region that is a celestial map, with metal studs indicating the positions in the sky of various planets and stars.

03
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The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

A picture of the entrance to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Sept. 2009

This is a picture of the flagship building of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. There are two other nearby facilities that are part of the National Air and Space Museum:

The National Air and Space Museum focuses mostly on aeronautical and space equipment, being more of interest from an engineering perspective than from a purely scientific ones. Still, even the most geeky of pure scientists will be hard pressed to be stoic in the face of actual capsules that have traveled into outer space and to the moon, and kids will absolutely love it. I still remember the exhibits here from when I went to D.C. in Middle School, so I'd definitely include it in any list of sites to visit in Washington, if you can fit it into the schedule.

04
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The Invention at Play Exhibit - Smithsonian National Museum of American History

A picture of the Invention at Play exhibit at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Sept. 2009

This exhibit is great for kids, featuring opportunities to explore some inventions - from kevlar to baby strollers to sailboarding (windsurfing) - in a fun and interactive way. Together with the Spark!Lab, this makes the Science and Innovation section of the National Museum of American History (the First Floor of the museum) into one of the most engaging places to take kids in all of Washington, D.C.

The National Museum of American History is right off of the National Mall, within easy walking distance of the Washington Monument and the National Aquarium.

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Spark!Lab - Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Front view of the Spark!Lab The Spark!Lab interactive science laboratory at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Sept. 2009

The Spark!Lab is an interactive science demonstration area, where students can directly explore scientific concepts. Similar concepts can be explored on the web at the Spark!Lab website, which includes a video sneak preview.

Together with the Invention at Play exhibit, this makes the Science and Innovation section of the National Museum of American History (the First Floor of the museum) into one of the most engaging places to take kids in all of Washington, D.C.

The National Museum of American History is right off of the National Mall, within easy walking distance of the Washington Monument and the National Aquarium.

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Spark!Lab - Smithsonian National Museum of American History

This view is from the doorway of the Spark!Lab The Spark!Lab interactive science laboratory at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Sept. 2009

The Spark!Lab is an interactive science demonstration area, where students can directly explore scientific concepts. This view is taken from the doorway into the Spark!Lab area. Similar concepts can be explored on the web at the Spark!Lab website.

Together with the Invention at Play exhibit, this makes the Science and Innovation section of the National Museum of American History (the First Floor of the museum) into one of the most engaging places to take kids in all of Washington, D.C.

The National Museum of American History is right off of the National Mall, within easy walking distance of the Washington Monument and the National Aquarium.

07
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Lighting a Revolution Exhibit - Smithsonian National Museum of American History

A picture of the entrance to the Lighting a Revolution display at the National Museum of American History. The exhibit honors the creation of the incandescent light bulb by Thomas Alva Edison. Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Sept. 2009

This exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History explores the process of Thomas Alva Edison creating the incandescent light bulb. The exhibit breaks the creation process into five distinct steps:

  1. Step 1: Preconditions
  2. Step 2: Invention
  3. Step 3: Promotion
  4. Step 4: Competition
  5. Step 5: Consequences

It's an interesting exploration of the process of invention, and of the history of one of the most profound inventions in American history. Also, it's just very cool to see some of the old-style equipment that they've got littered around this place. You can almost picture Edison, Volt, or Tesla tinkering around with these sorts of gadgets in an attempt to revolutionize the world through electricity.

08
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Vassar Telescope - Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Maria Mitchell's 1865 Telescope, used at Vassar College 1865 telescope used by Maria Mitchell, America's first female astronomer. The telescope is a gift of Vassar College, where Mitchell was a professor. Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Sept. 2009

This telescope was built by Henry Fitz of New York. It was built to be aligned with the Earth's poles, so that it could follow the motion of stars and planets across the sky. Maria Mitchell, the first American female astronomer, used this telescope during her studies at Vassar College.

Mitchell, who discovered a comet in 1847, went on to teach at Vassar College for women from 1865 to 1888. Also an advocate for women's rights, Mitchell believed that the study of science was a means by which women could affirm their fundamental intellectual (and therefore moral and ultimately social) equality with men:

When [women] come to truth through their investigations ... the truth which they get will be theirs, and their minds will work on and on unfettered.

The telescope was given to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History from Vassar College in 1963. At the time of this photograph, it is on display as one of the Museum's

Landmark Objects

. It is located on the Science and Innovation wing - First Floor West - near the escalators.

09
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Jack Swigert statue - U.S. Capitol building

This statue of astronaut Jack Swigert, Apollo XIII astronaut (portrayed by Kevin Bacon in the film Apollo 13), is displayed by the state of Colorado inside of the Capitol Building. Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Sept. 2009

John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., was one of the astronauts on the ill-fated Apollo XIII mission, which had an equipment malfunction while in orbit around the Earth. The ship was able to make it back, however, with all of the crew safe. In Ron Howard's Apollo 13, a film about these events, the role of Jack Swigert was played by the actor Kevin Bacon.

Swigert later became staff director of the Committee on Science and Technology of the U.S. House of Representatives. Though elected to Colorado's Sixth Congressional District in 1982, he died of cancer on December 27, 1982, before being sworn in and taking office.

This statue, sculpted by George and Mark Lundeen, is located within the Capitol Building, where each state is able to display two statues (except for Virginia, who has statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert E. Lee). The Swigert statue is one of the two statues displayed from the state of Colorado.

The gentleman standing next to the statue is your friendly Physics Guide, after a day of touring the nation's capital. At the time of this picture, the statue was located in the Capitol Visitor Center.

Edited by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.