Europe

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Learn about the world at Swedish museums

One of the sections in Tekniska Museet (National Museum of Science and Technology). – Photo from Wikimedia Creative Commons

One of the sections in Tekniska Museet (National Museum of Science and Technology). – Photo from Wikimedia Creative Commons

Swedish museums captivate the imagination and spark off interest to discover more of the world, past and present.

WITH close to 90 museums including one dedicated to ardent Abba fans, Stockholm is a must-visit for young intellectual travellers hungry for knowledge and culture. Star2 joins the National Science Challenge 2013 winners on a tour of some of Sweden’s “best brainy attractions” in the capital city.

Vasa Museum

Home to the Vasa, it presents the mighty ship in all its glory – right next to a painted model of the Vasa built to a scale of 1:10 (whoever says size doesn’t matter is delusional!). In 1625, King Gustav II Adolf commissioned the construction of four ships, of which the Vasa was the ill-fated first. The Vasa commenced her maiden voyage in 1628 but sank barely 1,300m out of Stockholm harbour.

It took 333 years of salvaging work before the Vasa resurfaced, and another 17 years of conservation efforts before she her magnificence was restored. While the main exhibit is captivating, the intricate sculptures on display provide a vibrant contrast to the stained dark brown hull. Take some time to admire and read about these sculptures because they are some of the best carvings produced in the 17th century when Sweden’s shipping industry was at its peak. It took 12 painstaking years of examining hundreds of microscopic colour fragments to restore the sculptures to their original hues.

King Gustav Adolf's mighty ship, the Vasa.
King Gustav Adolf's mighty ship, the Vasa.

The exhibits tell the story of the ship, her history and crew, events around the globe in the first half of the 17th century, naval warfare in the early 1600s, the stages of the Vasa’s recovery and the challenges in preserving the ship.

Nobel Museum

According to its official website, the museum’s aim is to spread knowledge and create interest about the natural sciences and culture. Mission accomplished. Dedicated to the Nobel Prize, its founder Alfred Nobel, more than 800 Nobel Laureates and their creative endeavours, the museum is currently situated in one of Stockholm’s most beautiful 18th-century buildings. The museum is slated to move into a new purpose-built Nobel Centre by 2018.

For a man whose inventions include the dynamite and who inspired the world for generations with his prize (he wrote in his will that physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace would each year receive a part of the revenues from his estate), Nobel sounded like a very sad and lonely man. On display was a description of himself: “Alfred Nobel – pitiful creature, ought to have been suffocated by a humane physician when he made his howling entrance into this life. Greatest virtues: keeping his nails clean and never being a burden to anyone. Greatest weaknesses: having neither wife and kids nor sunny disposition nor hearty appetite…. Important events in his life: none.” It’s always interesting to venture into a genius mind even if is dark and morbid.

For a dose of enlightenment minus the yawns, the thought-provoking short films on the Nobel Laureates’ successes and failures and how they triumphed against the naysayers will inspire even the most jaded visitor. Snippets of Marie Curie’s laboratory and (the late) Nelson Mandela leaving prison make for a good watch.

Linus Pauling's beret and structure of the alpha-helix molecule on display at the Nobel Museum. He is the only person ever to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes.
Linus Pauling's beret and structure of the alpha-helix molecule on display at the Nobel Museum. He is the only person ever to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes. 

Also, check out the work of the students from the Beckmans College of Design and the Royal College of Music. The young talents have creatively interpreted the 2013 Nobel Prizes in the language of fashion and music. The result? A seamless blend of science and the arts, of the mind and the heart. My top three favourites are the:

> Nobel Launderette – OK, it’s not really a launderette but at the entrance to the museum, each Nobel Laureate’s portrait and prize citation is hung along a unique cableway in the ceiling - just like clean and ironed laundry.

> Bistro Nobel chairs – Only at the Nobel Museum will you find great wisdom and cheeky quips under creaky wooden chairs. Some nice nuggets include: “Simple Buddhist monk” (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dalai Lama); “To the future Nobel Laureates who may be looking under this chair” (Nobel Prize Laureates in Physiology or Medicine James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Sudhof); and “Theoreticians use chairs a lot… walking and swimming are better for creativity than sitting down” (Nobel Prize Laureates in Chemistry Michael Levitt, Martin Karplus and Arieh Warshel).

> Laureates’ gallery – Laureates donated personal items that were once part of their Nobel-winning research for display in specially designed casings. Items include clothing, manuscripts, science model structures and even a jar from which bacteria was drunk!

Tekniska Museet (National Museum of Science and Technology)

Sweden’s biggest technology museum was set up to preserve the country’s technical and industrial history. A visit here is akin to time travelling but instead of entering a wonky machine of nuts and bolts, your portal is a massive building outside the city. Exploring exhibitions on space, inventions, energy and the environment through sight, sound and touch has never been this fun. Exhibitions that were on then:

> 100 Innovations

The museum’s largest production ever (that’s saying a lot since the museum opened in 1936), 100 Innovations showcases the most important inventions in history as rated by the Swedes.

> Game On 2.0

Gaming addicts, pack your bags! The homeland of Candy Crush plays host to the world’s largest and most comprehensive showcase of computer games with over 100 games, original sketches, rare collector’s items and stories dating back to the 1960s. Try your hand at virtual tennis from 1972 or test your skills on early arcade favourites like Donkey Kong, Pacman and Space Invaders or modern classics like World of Warcraft and Tetris. I even saw my retro Atari console here! This exhibition ends on April 27.

Swedish school kids waiting for Skansen's grey seal to pop up its head.
Swedish school kids waiting for Skansen's grey seal to appear. 

Skansen Open-air Museum and Zoo

Founded in 1891, the world’s first and oldest open-air museum brings traditional rural culture to life by exhibiting furnished houses and farmsteads, cultivated plots, gardens and animals.

The Melonia is the world's first pair of 3D printed shoes by Naim Josefi and Souzan Youssouf - at the Tekniska Museet.
The Melonia is the world's first pair of 3D printed shoes by Naim Josefi and Souzan Youssouf - at the Tekniska Museet.

Most of buildings are from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. There are some 75 different species and breeds of Scandinavian animals here, including bears, wolves, seals, the lynx, wolverine and elk. Fishes, crocodiles, turtles, lizards, snakes, naked mole-rats, pygmy marmosets, golden lion tamarins, baboons, lemurs, spiders, insects, bats and parrots also call Skansen home. This is one huge museum!

Tom Tits Experiment

There are literally hundreds of experiments and things to explore here. As it’s located quite a distance from Stockholm, make sure you have at least half a day to spare especially during summer when the park is open. A visit to Tom Tits is guaranteed to bring out the kid in you. From the outside, the tall, corner building looks deceptively small but step inside and a whole world of wonder opens up. The clever use of mirrors, space, lighting and sound create illusions that can really mess with your mind – in a good way.

Some of the interesting exhibits at the Tom Tits Experiment.
Some of the interesting exhibits at the Tom Tits Experiment.

This is probably the only museum I’ve ever visited where they encourage you to touch everything! Learning about basic science and the laws of nature has never been this fun. And if you are wondering about Tom Tits, he is an imaginary figure who carried out a range of scientific experiments in French publications at the end of the 19th century.


Related story:
Stimulating the mind at the museum


Tags / Keywords: Travel , Stockholm museums , National Science Challenge 2013 , winners , Sweden

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