Broaden the diversity of education, outreach, and training activities

Meteo AR app
Meteo-AR is an app for exploring geoscience from your mobile device. It was created by a SIParCS intern and is available as a free download in both the Google and Apple stores.

NCAR’s mission includes educational outreach and provision of instructional tools to member universities and the public. CISL engages a variety of activities to support this mission including docent-led tours of the NWSC, an augmented and virtual reality application, and in-person and online trainings. Educational activities are designed to enthrall and entrain the next generation of computational scientists.

By providing a wide variety of educational opportunities, CISL expands the number of access points for the public to learn about and engage with the atmospheric, computational, and related sciences. This broad selection of educational activities guarantees interaction with a more diverse audience and greater chance of engaging underrepresented audiences such as those at Minority Serving Institutions or those in EPSCoR states.

Frequently used apps named Meteo AR and Meteo VR were developed by a 2016 SIParCS student. Meteo AR is an Augmented Reality (AR) application that displays interactive virtual objects, like an animated globe or a hurricane, over real-world imagery captured by a mobile device’s camera. The app works with the NCAR “science cube” or downloadable science sheets. The science sheets include background information about science topics like El Niño, Hurricanes, and Climate Change to help users understand and interpret what they are seeing. Meteo VR is a Virtual Reality (VR) application that works with inexpensive devices like Google Cardboard to turn a user’s mobile phone into a 3D VR platform for exploring geoscience data. In FY2017 there were nearly 7,000 downloads of the Meteo AR and VR apps.

The NWSC visitor center offers self-guided tours for individuals and groups of all ages and backgrounds, and it can also be used for presentations and special events. The visitor center consists of a theater for watching a video overview; three science displays, each with two sides having a different science focus area; a young scientist display that includes a tornado simulator and an interactive computer speed demonstration; and a supercomputer display at which visitors can see inside the supercomputer and interact with an exhibit that connects the concepts of electrical power with computing power through a hand-crank “generator.” A key educational goal of the visitor center was to include content that would convey elements of computational thinking. These include interactive activities that explain the concept of speedup in parallel computing and identify other kinds of parallel systems in everyday life. To engage more diverse audiences, the videos in the exhibits also include Spanish-language subtitles.

In total, the content includes 18 professionally produced video segments, three short animated films, two touchscreen interactive games, two kinesthetic interactive elements, multiple question-and-answer displays, and science and technical content and accompanying vivid “story-telling” imagery for the six focus-area themes. In FY2017 the visitor center underwent a major upgrade, and two new educational panels were added that describe how the supercomputers are used to research the sun and coral reefs. This upgrade was concurrent with the deployment of the NWSC’s newest supercomputer, named Cheyenne.

On 12 August 2017 the NWSC hosted a public open house in collaboration with the City of Cheyenne’s 150th Anniversary celebrations. Nearly 250 people enjoyed the Visitor Center, facility tours, and educational activities. Interactive activities included robot races and Google Glass demos facilitated by students from the University of Wyoming, Meteo-AR demonstrations with CISL staff, and various hands-on science discovery activities run by members of UCAR’s SciEd staff. To prepare for the open house, CISL worked with UCAR’s SciEd to develop a new hands-on activity. This new educational tool uses Lego blocks to teach participants about the benefits of parallel computation.

In February, CISL collaborated with the University of Wyoming to pilot a training program at Miami Dade College. Six staff from CISL and UW traveled to Miami to teach faculty how to use Raspberry Pi units in a variety of scientific contexts, with an aim to help faculty introduce these computers into their classrooms. Miami Dade College is one of the largest community colleges in the country and is an Hispanic Serving Institution. By encouraging community college teaching faculty to utilize computational resources in a wide variety of courses, CISL hopes to expose students to the range of applications of computation early in their academic careers. This will hopefully start to create an onramp for these students to become interested in and gain access to computer science as a possible career direction. The effort was well-received and the program will be repeated and expanded in FY2018.

These activities are supported by NSF Core funds.