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[WATCH] Did you know there is a nifty museum at the National Geographic?

Orrin KonheimBy Orrin Konheim on Jan 16, 2013 | Add a Comment Add a Comment (0)

[WATCH] Did you know there is a nifty museum at the National Geographic?

Photograph courtesy George Steinmetz

The National Geographic Explorer's Hall is one of those museums in the business district of DC that doesn't tend to get a lot of buzz. A shame though because they often have some really interesting and visually appealing exhibits.

"Desert Air" runs until January 27th and displays some pretty trippy aerial imagery of various desert landscapes all over the world that I would describe with my limited experience reviewing photography as "groovy" (that is if "Trippy" wasn't a sufficient enough adjective). What's really groovy is that the photos are so out there that some aren't recognizable as landscapes. One looks like a paper machette project, one looks like a blood stain, and another looks like playdoh.

The most fascinating part is that the photos were shot by George Steinmetz who turned himself into a real-life Inspector Gadget by building a one-man flying machine attached to a paraglider.

Speaking of which, did you know that a Muslim man in ninth-century Spain named Abbas Ibn Firnas first attempted flight with feathers and wings attached to his body? According to legend, his debatably was able to fight gravity off for a little while. That was one of the many things I learned about the contributions from the Muslim world in the Middle Ages thanks to another exhibit at Explorers Hall I saw and also highly recommend.

Named "Best Touring Exhibition of the Year" at the Museums and Heritage Excellence Awards, '1001 Inventions: Discover the Golden Age of Muslim Civilization'  uncovers a thousand years of advances in science and technology from the Arab World during the Middle Ages that have had a huge but hidden impact on the modern world.

Specialized fancy-looking Arabesque wooden doors were specially installed for this exhibit. Famed actor Ben Kingsley kicks us off with a somewhat odd introductory video in which he plays a passive-aggressive librarian who yells at a trio of school kids for being ignorant of the accomplishments of Muslims during the Middle Ages and tells them to go away. He changes his mind a minute later and shows them a book which spills out all these glorious stories and accomplishments.

And then it's onto the exhibit which is decked out as if the Taj Mahal or La Alhambra were condensed into 3000 square feet. The exhibit has plenty of videos and interactive consules with games and brain teasers that will keep kids and adults with short attention spans entertained.

The exhibit is likely meant, in part, to counteract the rising tide of Islamophobia, and if it wasn't intended for that purpose, it still accomplishes that goal. The exhibit covers famous Muslims in the Middle Ages and showcases the historic advancements in navigation, medicine, hydraulics, optics, mathematics and more. Our number system, algebra, and all kinds of English words like zero, coffee, alcohol (so without the world we'd be helpless in both getting drunk and sobering up) process of getting drunk), racquet (as in tennis), check (as in "I'll take the ______") and traffic.

This exhibit runs until February 3rd.

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