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March 1999

Catch a static wave in the ML lobby

By running their hands over the Mesa Lab's newest exhibit, Static Landscape, visitors can produce a world of intricate patterns. (Photos by Carlye Calvin.)

In NCAR's newest public exhibit, static electricity is producing patterns that are anything but static. Unveiled in February and dedicated in a ceremony on 1 March, Static Landscape is another creation of master exhibit designer Ned Kahn. Kahn produced the ML lobby's tornado and several other NCAR installations. His twisters also grace a number of other science centers, but Static Landscape is unique to NCAR.

The exhibit's wavelike patterns are created by thousands of tiny steel balls, each roughly the size of a grain of sand, sandwiched between three-foot-wide sheets of Plexiglas. The sandwich is mounted on a spindle so that visitors can tilt it back and forth. This forces the steel spheres to cascade between the Plexiglas sheets, building up static charges. The charge distribution steers the balls in wildly varying patterns, creating elaborate and beautiful black-and-white designs. The exhibit serves as a metaphor for raindrops and ice particles that collide and exchange charge as they build the electric field inside a developing thunderstorm.

Funds for Static Landscape were provided by a special one-time donation from the Hovermale Education Fund. The fund was established in 1994 following the death of John Hovermale, who was well known for his contributions to numerical weather prediction. Hovermale's career path included Pennsylvania State University, the National Weather Service, and the Naval Research Laboratory. The Hovermale contribution toward Static Landscape was matched by UCAR.

Another new arrival has claimed a place in the NCAR lobby. A model of an air traffic control tower has been added to the Thunderstorm Detectives exhibit, which is now upstairs above the reception desk. The tower was part of a traveling version of Thunderstorm Detectives that toured airports and science centers across the country in the mid-1990s.

Visitors will soon have a new space to watch UCAR-based research in action. A mini-theater for tour groups will be installed in part of the area now occupied by the smoking lounge just off the south end of the main ML lobby. The lounge is being reduced to make room for the new theater. It will seat 50 and provide a space for screening the introductory NCAR video, research highlights, and products from NCAR's Visualization Laboratory. •BH


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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu

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