UCAR Communications


staff notes monthly

February 2003

Coming Soon:

New Mesa Lab attractions

The Mesa Lab exhibit area, in its biggest upgrade in several years, will soon offer two new premier attractions. Visitors can look forward both to exploring a detailed exhibit on climate change and to using specially designed audio tour sets that will provide a wealth of information about selected exhibits and atmospheric research in general.

The new Mesa Lab exhibit will feature interactive displays and a mural depicting the atmosphere. (Drawing courtesy EO.)

“We’re very excited about this opportunity to better inform the public,” says Linda Carbone, coordinator of exhibits for Education and Outreach. “This is the first upgrade to our exhibits program in quite a while, and it brings us into the new century with wonderful new features.”

The exhibit area is closed for several months because of the ongoing refurbishment of the Mesa Lab. But the lobby is expected to reopen to the public in the spring, and EO plans to have its new offerings ready by about June.

Climates past and present

The climate change exhibit will consist of two parts. One will introduce visitors to Earth’s present climate, explaining how natural processes interact to drive climatic events around the globe. It will feature two large plasma screens—one focusing on the effect of the Sun on Earth’s atmosphere and the other highlighting climate research.

The second part of the exhibit will peer into the past, explaining the changing climate from Earth’s beginnings to the present day. Highlights will include the planet’s early atmosphere and climate conditions in prehistoric times, during the last glacial maximum (about 18,000 years ago), and over the past millennium. EO plans to secure funding in the coming year to add a third part looking at present conditions and the outlook for global climate change.

The exhibit will be located on the second floor, supplanting the decades-old exhibits on the Sun and meteorological optics. (In lieu of the aging optics, EO plans to eventually display new optics based on NCAR images.) Enhancing the new exhibit will be a two-story mural painted on the stairwell on the north end of the gallery displaying the layers of the atmosphere.

Linda says she hopes to update parts of the climate change exhibit regularly to keep up with new research. “The idea is to make this an exhibit that is very changeable because this is obviously research that is moving very fast,” she says.

At the wave tank, one of the Mesa Lab’s popular exhibits, visitors move obstacles and observe the resulting turbulence patterns.

Customizing audio tours

EO is also working with Antenna Audio—an international audio interpretive company with North American headquarters in Sausalito, California—to design an audio tour program. Visitors will be able, for a nominal fee, to rent MP3 players that will provide narrative about selected exhibits and other subjects such as the famed architecture of the building and the ecology of the mesa. The audio will include comments by scientists and other narrators as well as background music and sound effects.

Thanks to digital technology, visitors will be able to customize their tours to their level of expertise. School students, for example, can select information about several exhibits and hear explanations geared just for them, while adults can hear more technical layers of content about a topic like climate change. The new technology will also accommodate the needs of people who are visually or hearing impaired, and versions will be available in Spanish as well as English. “The MP3 technology adapts itself beautifully to special visitor categories,” says Rene Munoz, EO’s visitor program coordinator.

Rene expects a high demand for the audio tours. EO will continue to offer regular noontime tours of the building, as well as specially arranged custom tours. But most visitors, who do not come as part of a group, cannot easily schedule such tours. (The size of the potential audio tour market is illustrated by the fact that, last year, EO gave 778 tours to about 14,000 visitors—but the Mesa Lab’s “people counter” device at the front door counted an additional 66,000 people who entered the building; presumably many were visitors who would have enjoyed this additional information.)

The audio tour will feature as many as 25 stops, with a continuous running time of about 45 minutes.

“This is thrilling to us,” Rene says. “We have staff scientists involved in some very important research topics that visitors may have read about. It’s possible the visitors may be able to listen to that scientist or another narrator describing the topic and the research. They will find out so much more about our activities and the work of the people here because of the programmed content. Whatever time of day any individual or family comes here, there will be the opportunity for comprehensive and consistently delivered information—and that’s never been the case before.”

The ML exhibit area is a prominent Boulder attraction and one of the region’s top scientific resources, highlighting weather events and climate science. But because of limited funding, it has undergone little upgrading since 1994, when interactive exhibits such as the popular tornado vortex were installed on the first floor. In 2000, a science-and-history exhibit, Atmospheric Odyssey, was added.

The current upgrades are supported by special funding from an NCAR strategic initiative. They reflect the desire of the institution and NSF to put a greater emphasis on educating the public about science, and to make the science more available to all segments of visitors, especially those who are physically challenged.

“It’s important for there to be an informed public about science if science is to thrive,” explains EO associate director Susan Foster. “And scientific awareness is critical for the future of the country.” •David Hosansky

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Delphi Questions

Still soaring high

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