Friday, October 20, 2017
 

The Scientists Are In

Monday, April 30, 2012

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


Communicating with the public about scientific topics isn’t easy – even for scientists talking about their own work. A partnership between NOAA and the San Francisco Exploratorium museum is taking steps to train scientists to talk to the public about their work with the benefit of having NOAA research highlighted in one of the premier science centers in the world. Funded by an Environmental Literacy Grant from NOAA’s Office of Education, the Exploratorium Environmental Scientist-in-Residence Program embeds NOAA scientists in a public education laboratory at the Exploratorium to share their expertise with the goal of creating new hands-on techniques for engaging a range of public audiences in NOAA science.

Artist rendering of future Exploratorium location on Pier 15.

Artist rendering of future Exploratorium location on Pier 15.

Credit: Exploratorium

The Exploratorium has not traditionally tackled environmental sciences. Their current location in the Palace of Fine Arts does not provide much opportunity to experience their surrounding environment, but that is all about to change. In spring 2013, the Exploratorium will open the doors at their new home on Pier 15 along the high-traffic Embarcadero. The new location will feature a glass observatory as well as deep water access, giving visitors a window on the world. NOAA forged its relationship with the science center to share scientific expertise in developing this new aspect of the Exploratorium’s offerings.

NOAA scientists spend three weeks of residence on the museum floor with Exploratorium Explainers and educators to interact with visitors and explain NOAA science to the public. An initial week-long fall residence is followed by an intensive two-week spring residency, featuring an installation in the Exploratorium's Phyllis C. Wattis Webcast Studio on the scientists' research and work. Scientists in residence work with students from the Exploratorium High School Explainer program to discuss their work with visitors, conduct demonstrations, and lead floor walks connecting Exploratorium exhibits to NOAA science.

A test of the prototype rain chamber developed in partnership with NOA A ’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

A test of the prototype rain chamber developed in partnership with NOA A ’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

Credit: Exploratorium

Scientists from the Hydrometeorology Testbed at NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo. served as the first scientists in residence. They used instruments, existing exhibits and data displays to teach visitors about Pacific Storms. They also co-developed a prototype rain chamber exhibit that can be used to dial up a recent storm event and feel the intensity of the rain while seeing the data being produced.

Surveys showed that visitors appreciated the unique perspective offered by having working scientists on hand to describe their work. For most, this was the first time that they had heard of NOAA, which highlights the importance of efforts like this. The success of this pilot project paved the way for further residencies that have covered topics ranging from underwater acoustics to climate. Most recently, researchers from the National Severe Storms Laboratory were at the Exploratorium helping visitors explore and understand the research behind the forecasts and severe weather warnings the public sees.

A scientist from NOA A ’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory talks with visitors about the use of underwater acoustics to track whales.

A scientist from NOA A ’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory talks with visitors about the use of underwater acoustics to track whales.

Credit: Exploratorium

Working closely with youth Explainers, exhibit developers, and Web and interactive media producers at the Exploratorium, NOAA scientists are sharing instruments, data, and their professional expertise with a variety of public audiences inside the museum and on the Web. At the same time the scientists are gaining valuable skills in informal science communication and education. Through cutting-edge iPad displays, screen-based visualizations, data-enriched maps and sensor displays, and innovative interactions with visitors on the museum floor, this learning laboratory enables NOAA scientists and Exploratorium staff to investigate new hands-on techniques for engaging the public in NOAA’s environmental research and monitoring efforts.

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