Technology to make climate science visual

Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Instructors at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai are hoping to engage students and the community in climate science using flashy digital displays.

The center is partnering with the Anchorage Museum and the University of Alaska's Museum of the North in Fairbanks to use sphere shaped screens that can show changing global forest cover, animal migrations, shifting climate patterns or teach astronomy lessons, among other things.

"Kids will be able to see progression going back through time," said Marnie Olcott, the chief operating officer at the center. "The can see the rainforest for example, and what it was 100 years ago and what it is now."

She explained that the globes turn data sets into visual imagery.

The center is due to get an 18-inch portable model they can take to classrooms and a 30-inch model that will be used on site.

Olcott said that while the center plans to start using the displays as soon as they get them -- sometime in March -- the three partners will spend the next year developing content for their use.

The displays and the collaborative development of their use is funded by a $980,000 NASA grant.

Olcott said the partnership between the three institutions and use of the displays is intended to broaden climate science lessons to more than just school children, though the center will chiefly find ways to incorporate the globes into their preexisting space programs.

She said the Anchorage Museum would be developing a community-based curriculum.

She said, however, that by providing a visual image, they could also become a talking point in community conversations on climate change.

"They will take away a lot of the scariness and misconceptions and be able to illustrate to people what climate change truly means," Olcott said. "In order to really reach the kids you have to reach the communities too. It's one thing to tell children why something is important but you also have to have community support embracing that information."

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