ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Winter 2009

SOS Users

International science educators gather to discuss innovative use, impact of ESRL’s Science On a Sphere®

Simulation of an airborne toxin in Fort Worth, Texas 15 minutes after the release.
Simulation of an airborne toxin in Fort Worth, Texas 30 minutes after the release.

Top: Sanna Reponen from Heureka, the Finnish Science Center. Bottom: Maurice Henderson from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (left) and ESRL’s William Bendell (Global Systems Division). Photos by Will von Dauster, NOAA.

Science On a Sphere®, an educational tool developed at ESRL, now wows audiences at 41 science museums and other institutions around the world. In November, nearly 100 people from those institutions visited ESRL for the third annual SOS Users Collaborative Network Workshop. Participants traveled from as far away as Mexico, Finland, and South Korea. They shared stories about how to best engage visitors with the giant animated globe, and presented evidence that watching climate data swirl across the sphere, or hurricanes, or clouds, or ocean currents can measurably improve people’s understanding of the planet.

John Schneider, ESRL’s Deputy Director for Science, welcomed the workshop participants. “Our mission, at heart, is to develop scientific and technical knowledge and share it with the world,” Schneider said. “So where we are concerned, SOS is a big success.”

Christos Michalopoulos, Assistant Director of NOAA’s Office of Education, also spoke to the group. “These are really opportune times for science education, because the new administration views STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as a necessity for the competitiveness of this country,” Michalopoulos said. “We feel that SOS, and all of you, have a key role to play.”

Manjit Goldberg, from the Maryland Science Center, explained how her team has built hands-on kiosks near the SOS, with interactive programming that helps visitors understand what they’re seeing on the sphere. “We found an increase in curiosity…and better understanding of color keys and geographical references,” Goldberg said.

Elizabeth Ban from the Smithsonian Natural History Museum said a recent evaluation of the museum’s Sant Ocean Hall showed that visitors enjoy, and are learning from, SOS. Many visitors leave the Ocean Hall with the museum’s intended primary message, that the ocean is one, interconnected system, Ban said. “When we ask them where they got that message, one place they point to is our Global Ocean Systems section, which has our SOS.”