Like any museum the Sedgwick Museum had its large, dramatic display pieces. It also had collected items crammed into every conceivable space and drawer (like the fossils of sea urchins in the slide show). There was always too much to take in everything with a single visit. So, each trip involved new discoveries, depending on which cases we chose to explore, which was part of the reason it was a fantastic place to bring our kids over and over again.
Despite its tiny size, Cambridge (UK) is full of science travel destinations. One of my personal favourites is The Eagle. This pub is the location where, in 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick first announced the helical structure of DNA. Their lab was right across the street, and when they solved the puzzle (after perusing Rosalind Franklin’s famous image) they went to the pub to tell everyone. Francis Crick announced that they’d “discovered the secret of life”.
Two months later, they published the work in Nature, but the news was first announced right in this pub. Now, 50 years later, the helical structure of DNA has become iconic. You see it anywhere from scifi movies to biotech company logos.
Cambridge is particularly proud of its helix, and has even placed a statue of a DNA helix along a cycle path just outside of Addenbrookes hospital. If you’re on the right side of the train traveling from London to Cambridge, you can see it if you know where to look.
That helix structure marks the start of the BRCA2 cycle path: the cycle path along the train track is painted in stripes of four colours, according to the genetic sequence of BRCA2 – the gene which, when mutated, causes significantly increased risk of breast cancer. I wrote more about the cycle path here.
In a town that can’t get enough of DNA, it’s tempting to go along with the biochemical geekery, and so after the 2011 SciBarCamb unconference a few of us posed in front of The Eagle pub with a model of two basepairs of DNA made out of balloons. Just another day celebrating DNA in Cambridge.
(Balloon DNA photo by Jim Caryl. Other photos by me.)
Most of the science museums in Cambridge are like the Sedgwick museum I wrote about a few weeks ago: very interesting, and full of things to look at, but mainly historic and academic. They celebrate science as things that have been done before. What Cambridge doesn’t have is a more educational and hands-on museum about science. But not for long: on February 8, the Cambridge Science Centre will open a small exhibition space, filled with interactive displays, in a temporary location in the centre of Cambridge. It’s the birth of a new science museum.