ESRL Global Systems Division

NOAA's Science On a Sphere® Dazzles Students at Boulder Colo Middle School

The Science On a Sphere® (SOS) team at the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL)/Global Systems Division/Technology Outreach Branch continually improves the traveling SOS System that has elevated scientific literacy around the globe. Because new SOS team members needed practical technical training in setting up the traveling SOS System, more than 500 students who attend Southern Hills Middle School in Boulder, Colorado were treated to demonstrations of SOS during the week of March 17- 21. NOAA in Boulder helps create the community's image as a center of innovation and technological development. These students received a close-up look this week at an inspiring innovation springing from NOAA. Normally, the portable SOS System is demonstrated only at large national science conferences.

SOS is a large visualization system that uses computers and video projectors to display animated data onto the outside of a sphere. It was invented by current ESRL Director Dr. Sandy MacDonald in 1995 when he came up with the concept for SOS (in his garage using a beach ball painted white and a 35mm slide projector) as an outgrowth of other visualization projects that he was directing within the former Forecast Systems Laboratory. Since that time, SOS has become an important part of educational programs in 108 museums and science centers in 16 countries.

Audiences around the world express excitement when they first see the rare view of the planet that an SOS presentation provides. As visualized on SOS, the Earth isn't sliced and spread out as it is on a flat map and it doesn't have rods poking through the poles like a globe. SOS displays a high-resolution view of Earth and other spherical bodies in our solar system that replicate what can be seen or sensed from satellites or modeled by supercomputers.

Researchers at NOAA/ESRL continue to develop and advance SOS as an educational tool to help illustrate Earth system science to people of all ages. Animated images of atmospheric storms, climate change, and ocean temperature can be shown on the sphere, illustrating complex environmental processes in a way that is simultaneously intuitive and captivating. Using an iPad app, SOS presenters are able to effortlessly display, annotate, zoom, and layer the more than 450 data sets that are available for SOS.

SOS is a NOAA/ESRL program that has developed a revolutionary system for educating the public on the holistic nature of Earth's ever-changing oceans, atmosphere, and land. NOAA's global science is presented on SOS in new and exciting ways by providing engaging three-dimensional representations of our planet as if the viewers were looking at them from outer space. Through informal educational programs in science centers, universities, and museums across the country and globally, NOAA's educational program goals are extended through SOS by increasing the public understanding of our environment, knowledge of the Earth's land, oceans, and atmosphere, and knowledge of other bodies in our solar system.

Contact information
Name: John P Schneider
Tel: 303-497-4646
John.P.Schneider@noaa.gov