New Horizons in Science

presented by
CASW

Art, Buckeyes and cuisine: the Columbus ABCs

Here’s a scenario: ScienceWriters2014 is a wrap, and you’ve got a couple of hours to kill before your flight out of Columbus. What to do?

I’ve got some suggestions. As organizer of the New Horizons in Science briefings, I spend several days in the next host city each spring, looking at prospective research topics and tours for the fall meeting. Visiting Columbus for the first time this year was an adventure that I can recommend.

Columbus is a broad-shouldered and diverse headquarters city, agricultural center, state capital and college town rolled into one, a vibrant big place brimming with Buckeye friendliness and pride as well as tons of art and culture. There’s a surprising abundance of things to do within walking distance of the Hilton Columbus Downtown, where the meeting will take place. And no shortage of science: the 2014 host, Ohio State University, is a top-20 research university with a land-grant tradition and major medical center; here also are the Battelle Memorial Institute and Chemical Abstracts Service

Once you’ve attended this fall’s meetings, the perspective in your rear-view mirror may differ from mine. In the meantime, I modestly offer, in no particular order, 10 Science-Writerly Things To Do With An Extra Hour in Columbus:

1. Stop by OSU’s Byrd Polar Research Center (especially if you missed the tour) and get a student or postdoc to show you the US Polar Rock Repository and all the cool stuff they have out in the hallways. Of course the big show at Byrd is the amazing repository of ice cores (and the infrastructure it takes to maintain this critical scientific record at -30 degrees F), but the images, artifacts and samples from polar expeditions are just as interesting. They’ll even lend you a rock box (photo at left) for educational outreach.

2. Enough science at the meeting, already? Then get yourself to a Columbus pub to see a real fried bologna sandwich. Thanks to Jeff Grabmeier—OSU science writer, NASW board member, Ohio native and chief host for the Oct. 17-21 meeting—this is the experience I actually had on my way out of town. I don’t think I could’ve imagined a hunk of baloney quite as hefty as the one Jeff tucked into at one of Columbus's traditional taverns. When the eggroll appetizers are stuffed with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss, you know you’re in Ohio.

3. Try, just try, scolding the Canada geese that have been wreaking havoc with Columbus’s efforts to restore its rivers. During my spring visit, contractors were at work creating new landscaped riverfronts along the Scioto and Olentangy rivers after the removal of two low-head dams. But where the Olentangy winds through the OSU campus, geese were eating new vegetation faster than it could be planted. Plastic coyotes and Mylar strips had been deployed to no avail, so biologists began flashing laser pointers and annoying the geese with sirens, whistles and fireworks. The noisemaking is expected to continue through our meeting dates… along with, I’m sure, the stubborn resistance of Branta canadensis. On the other hand, greenway construction and the looming presence of the city’s Santa Maria replica seem to have discouraged waterfowl along the Scioto Mile downtown (photos at right show downtown before dam removal and how the new riverfront is envisioned).

4. If you haven’t already done so, duck into the North Market, close to the meeting hotel in the Short North gallery district, for a broader glimpse of Columbus cuisine, culture and agriculture. The market’s got farmers, artisans and an ethnically exuberant mix of food and specialty shops showing off Ohio's bounty. It’s home to the original Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams store where you can grab a frozen confection flavored with cayenne, whiskey, goat cheese, corn chips or rosemary. Or there's a wealth of fine art nearby at the Columbus Museum of Art (a 20-minute walk from the hotel), undergoing an expansion but open during the meeting. The A-R-T sculpture at the adjoining Columbus College of Art and Design is a site for a serious selfie.

5. Pop into OSU’s new physics building to see one of my favorite artifacts, a photomultiplier tube from the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector. It’s a rare and beautiful object that deserves a moment of silent admiration. On November 12, 2001, a cascading shock wave destroyed almost 7,000 of these exquisite handmade devices as the water around them was being replaced. OSU has one of the survivors. The sublety of the work the PMTs were designed for—detecting Cherenkov radiation on the walls of a tank holding 50,000 tons of ultra-pure water—is a reminder of how delicate a fingerprint a neutrino leaves. And it’s something we’ll hear all about during the New Horizons in Science presentations. 

6. What, you might ask, is a sauerkraut ball? Akron newspaper readers voted this appetizer the Official Food of their fair city. But you can get this question answered definitively in Columbus, where the restaurants of German Village have been known to engage in trash talk over sauerkraut balls during Oktoberfest. Imagine a breaded, fried ball stuffed with crumbled sausage, onion, sauerkraut, breadcrumbs and mustard. An acquired taste, but one you can indulge at a brewpub around the corner from our meeting hotel. And honestly, once you get past the traditional German-influenced cuisine, Columbus is an enthusiastic foodie town offering plenty of vegetarian and healthy dining. I met a number of OSU faculty members who had settled in Columbus after training elsewhere. One had enjoyed Boston's restaurants but said they couldn't compete with Columbus's.

7. Check out the equine scene. Columbus’s largest annual convention is also the largest single-breed horse show in the world: the All American Quarter Horse Congress, which will be going on at the state fairgrounds while we’re in town. Or find out part of what would attract 6,000 horses and their owners to Columbus by visiting the equine research facility and hospital at Ohio State, where some 1,2000 ill or injured horses are hospitalized annually.

8. Revel in the feel of an endlessly self-remade Rust Belt city. The economic diversity of Columbus has helped it ride the waves washing over the US economy in recent decades. In the Port Columbus passenger air terminal you’ll see displays of automobile engines sponsored by Honda, which assembles cars in a plant in nearby Marysville. Walking around downtown you'll notice lots of headquarters buildings; among the corporations based here are American Electric Power, Nationwide Insurance, NetJets and retail powerhouses including L Brands, DSW, Victoria’s Secret and The Limited. Unfortunately this is a major urban center with no passenger rail service (the convention center across from the Hilton sits on the site of the old Union Station), governor John Kasich having declared “Passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future” and turned $400 million in stimulus funds back to the federal government in 2010. But it’s got major rail yards and a multimodal transfer terminal at an airport built just for cargo. 

9. Try, just try, driving to the campus Oval from the leviathan Ohio Stadium (echoing with memories of Woody Hayes—call two weeks ahead for a tour of the beloved Horseshoe), where game-day crowds can top 105,000, in under 20 minutes. OSU students are blithely unaware of motor vehicles as they flow across their campus. And they walk, study, eat and shout O-H-I-O in hordes (while carrying on a cursive writing tradition). Numbering more than 57,000, this is the third largest student body in the US. Fortunately, when you get to the Oval (pictured at left), the beauty of that expansive campus green will reward your effort. Before leaving the Oval you might slip into OSU’s main library, where bronze inlays on floors and elevator doors (below right) express the diversity of human written communication.

10. Get outta town. The attractions of the landscape around Columbus are subtle but also unique. The glacial plain of south-central Ohio has a deep American Indian history written in the land. The Ancient Ohio Trail connects many earthworks; closest to Columbus are the Newark Earthworks, the largest geometric earthwork complex in the world. The best preserved is the 2,000-year-old Great Circle, a gigantic enclosure 1,200 feet in diameter.  A mound and channels inside the structure suggest that the Adena culture built it for ritual use. Remnants of the Ohio and Erie Canal at the same site evoke more recent history.

Oh, and now, it’s time for you to actually get outta town; that flight is probably boarding, and you’ll have to return to Columbus again to finish your own list. Hope you had a great meeting, and a great visit to the Arch City.—Rosalind Reid, CASW Executive DIrector

About CASW

The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing is committed to improving the quality and quantity of science news reaching the public. Directed and advised by distinguished journalists and scientists, CASW develops and funds programs that encourage accurate and informative writing about developments in science, technology, medicine and the environment.

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