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NOAA Science Has a Home at the New Exploratorium

NOAA Science Has a Home at the New Exploratorium

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

by Rochelle Plutchak, Communications Specialist, NOAA’s Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research

The Exploratorium at Pier 15, view from the water

The Exploratorium at Pier 15, view from the water

Credit: Exploratorium

On the San Francisco waterfront, you can find a pier outfitted with all sorts of instruments taking measurements in the water and in the air. You can see a large, red and white buoy used to study ocean acidification. Sometimes, you can even see large research vessels bearing the NOAA logo. While this might sound like a NOAA research lab, it is actually the new home of the famous San Francisco Exploratorium.

One of the world’s premier science centers, the Exploratorium has been reaching the public through creative programs and exhibits that let visitors experience scientific discovery for over 40 years.  Now that experience includes NOAA science, thanks to a partnership started in 2009 to bring oceanic and atmospheric science to the public.  

Scientists from all NOAA disciplines are contributing expertise and instruments, and in some cases have been embedded in the Exploratorium – not just as advisors, but as interpreters of data and co-developers of exhibits and programs that are helping the Exploratorium take advantage of their new digs on Pier 15.  NOAA scientists and museum staff will develop new visitor experiences that will be prototyped and refined in view of the public.

A NOAA  buoy outfitted to study ocean acidification arrives at the Exploratorium.

A NOAA buoy outfitted to study ocean acidification arrives at the Exploratorium.

Credit: Exploratorium

"The NOAA partnership and our work with scientists across the agency the last few years have given us a leg up on developing exhibits and programs that reflect current research on weather, fisheries, climate, and environmental monitoring of the San Francisco Bay and California coastline,” said Mary Miller, director of the NOAA-Exploratorium partnership.

Curious onlookers will have a chance to witness science as it is happening when research vessels pull up to the pier to process samples in full view of Exploratorium visitors.  NOAA does not have a dedicated space for docking in San Francisco, so this new “educational port of opportunity” is a welcome addition for vessels operating off the West Coast.

The Outdoor Gallery will feature a new rain chamber exhibit, “Remote Rains,” which was inspired and co-developed by NOAA researchers at the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Visitors will wield umbrellas as they recreate and experience the frequency, size and velocity of raindrops from previous storms and explore the mechanisms that drive Pacific storms.

“It is really exciting for our scientists to help transform their work into experiences that live on the museum floor. We have a chance to talk about these complex topics that NOAA studies, like weather and climate, through the creative lens of the Exploratorium,” said Alexander E. “Sandy” MacDonald, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory. “This is very helpful to Earth System scientists.”

A NOAA scientist and Exploratorium staff perform indoor tests on the new “Remote Rains” exhibit.

A NOAA scientist and Exploratorium staff perform indoor tests on the new “Remote Rains” exhibit.

The exhibit was developed in cooperation with researchers from NOAA’s Hydrometeorology Testbed. Credit: Exploratorium

Benefits of the partnership extend far beyond the piers.  NOAA scientists participating in the partnership have had opportunities to build the skills they need to communicate about their research and its importance to society – no easy feat.  Thanks to the Scientists In Residence Program, there is now a small army of the Exploratorium’s High School Explainers, trained by NOAA scientists, ready to explain NOAA science on subjects ranging from climate and weather to ocean acoustics to salmon.

Going beyond NOAA and the education community, the partnership is benefitting the broader science community as well. As a result of this collaboration, the Exploratorium's new “Wired Pier” is collecting and contributing data to the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), benefiting the ocean observing community and end users alike.

As Dennis Bartels, Executive Director, Exploratorium explained, "We knew with our move to the San Francisco piers that we'd have wonderful opportunities to explore the Bay, oceans and atmosphere. What better group of scientists are there on these very subjects than NOAA?"

On the Web:
Exploratorium and NOAA Collaboration
NOAA Scientists In Residence and Video
Transit of Venus
Voyages of Discovery

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