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UCAR: 35 years of discovery

This year UCAR and NCAR jointly celebrate their 35th anniversary. It was in June 1960 that the national center was established in Boulder, Colorado, with UCAR as its managing body. The event came as a result of the efforts of 14 universities that saw a need for the kind of core research programs and facilities that no single institution could fund or operate. UCAR now has 61 member universities, 18 academic affiliates, and 28 international affiliates, and oversees a dozen programs as well as NCAR. It encompasses the original, I.M. Pei-designed Mesa Laboratory, the Foothills Laboratory complex in north Boulder, and the Research Aviation Facility at Jefferson County Airport (Jeffco) near Broomfield, Colorado.

The first and main event of the anniversary year is an open house at all three Colorado locations on 22 April. The date was chosen to make it a triple celebration including the 25th anniversary of Earth Day and the beginning of National Science and Technology Week (NSTW).

In addition to the permanent educational exhibits at the Mesa Laboratory, the various NCAR divisions and UCAR programs will either open their facilities for public tours and demonstrations or set up special exhibits. Field instruments and mobile laboratories will be on display outside the buildings; at Jeffco, the public can see the NSF/NCAR research aircraft fleet: the WB-57F twin jet; the large-capacity, four-engine Lockheed EC-130Q turboprop; the Beechcraft King Air research aircraft; and a Schweizer SGS 2-32 sailplane.

Special exhibits will include a multimedia, interactive demonstration and display of climate modeling with supercomputers; computerized and pictorial displays depicting regional weather and tornadic thunderstorms; working versions of satellite instruments; and interactive CD-ROM modules for training weather forecasters. There will be tours and visits to the computer-controlled Frost Phytotron greenhouse; laser laboratories; the machine shop where scientific instruments are built; and the Aviation Weather Development Laboratory, which develops systems for detecting and warning of weather hazards at airports.

The weekend's celebrations are not limited to Boulder and Broomfield. A grant from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District will make the NSTW kickoff a regional event involving NCAR, the Denver Museum of Natural History, and the Collage Children's Museum in Boulder. Even to call it regional is to confine the event unduly, because the organizers of the open house have included the entire UCAR community. It's more like a "tour of homes," than an open house. The Boulder community is familiar with NCAR and what it does, says open house co-chair Ben Domenico. But, he believes, it is not so well known that NCAR's parent organization, UCAR, is really a worldwide network of universities. In addition to UCAR's members and affiliates, some UCAR programs have their own university connections. Unidata, for example, serves 130 universities with real-time weather data; UNAVCO, which provides equipment and support to researchers using the Global Positioning System anywhere in the world, is itself a consortium of 61 universities.

Accordingly, Unidata's contribution to the open house has been to coordinate a university exhibit in which visitors can use computer terminals equipped with World Wide Web browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape to visit various university home pages. Most universities with UCAR connections have their own home pages on the Web, and many of these include weather data, forecasts, and pictures. Open house planners encouraged the universities to create special pages commemorating the historical theme. In the main seminar rooms at both Boulder sites, visitors can see live weather updates by professors at four universities (the Universities of Illinois and Michigan, Florida State University, and Plymouth State University) through a software package called CU-SeeMe that provides low-cost videoconferencing over the Internet.

There are also efforts to extend anniversary activities in time as well as space. Anyone with Mosaic or Netscape Web access will still be able to visit the university Web documents after the open house ends. In addition, thanks to special funding from NSF, two prototype weather and climate kiosks will be unveiled, one at the Mesa Laboratory and one at the natural history museum. These will deliver interactive images, data, and other information resources from the UCAR community. They are designed to enhance the educational impact of an upcoming IMAX film, "Stormchasers," scheduled to debut at 14 museums this fall. The idea, says NCAR exhibits coordinator Steve Davis, is to provide the public and schools with materials for further study of the atmospheric sciences. "The question is, `what does the public want to know?'" The prototypes will help answer this question through audience testing and survey evaluation throughout the spring and summer.

Another continuing event is a series of public LASERS (Learning About Science Easily and Readily) lectures. In the first, NCAR director Robert Serafin will describe the history of atmospheric observations. Other speakers scheduled for later dates are UCAR president Richard Anthes, William Chameides of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Eric Barron of the Pennsylvania State University.

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Mon Apr 3 17:49:41 MDT 2000