Science Rocks! Boulder outreach group showcases NOAA science at Denver Museum of Nature & Science and University of Wyoming

DMNS Science CelebrationEric Godoy, DMNS Partnership Programs Coordinator, fires up the crowd about science at the 6th annual Science Celebration at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. NOAA Boulder was a featured exhibitor. Photo: Will von Dauster, NOAA.

ESRL's Eric Hackathorn at event

NOAA/ESRL’s  Eric Hackathorn looks on as an enthusiastic "screen driver" experiences SOS Explorer™. Photo: Will von Dauster, NOAA.

This month, the NOAA Boulder Outreach and Coordinating Council (BOCC) celebrated science with big crowds and diversity in mind.

On May 7, our team was among the STEM Careers Exhibitors at the 6th annual Science Celebration, part of the Urban Advantage Metro Denver (UA) program designed to reduce the opportunity and achievement gap among urban middle school students.

At this event, held at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, we showcased—for the first time in public—SOS Explorer (SOSx), a flat-screen version of the widely popular Science On a Sphere® (SOS). NOAA's Eric Hackathorn showed off the revolutionary software that takes datasets depicting Earth systems usually seen on a 6-foot diameter sphere in large museum spaces and makes them more accessible. These visualizations show information provided by satellites, ground observations, and computer models and allow users to manipulate the information using a touch screen, creating a wow factor for the “screen drivers.”

Also at the event, NOAA scientist Dorothy Fibiger demonstrated a particle counter—that she had made earlier with seventh graders—and explained the science behind it. Outreach coordinators Debra Fisher and Annie Reiser talked with attendees about NOAA’s mission and science and handed out educational materials representing the Boulder labs. “The Spanish-language posters were a favorite,” said Reiser, “and not one was left after students, their families, and the museum crowds visited us.” Added Fisher, “we really got the word out about NOAA.” Both outreach communicators were surprised that only one person they asked actually knew what NOAA was.

The Science Celebration is the capstone event of a year-long program that is a partnership between three science-based Denver cultural institutions (the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and the Denver Zoo) and two public school districts (Denver Public Schools and Aurora Public Schools). The event gives some 230 seventh grade students the chance to present their inquiry-based science projects to their peers, families, and guests from science-based corporations and organizations—about 750 people in total. Although it’s structured much like a traditional science fair, this program finale is more a celebration of scientific curiosity than a competition. By encouraging students to think critically and creatively, the project aims to make the whole science experience more positive and less intimidating.

Womack at 2016 Women in Science eventNOAA/ESRL’s Carrie Womack captivates the girls with her hands-on experiment about aerosols and their role in air pollution at a Women in Stem event in May. Photo: Annie Reiser, NOAA.

Aerosols experimentScience in the making: the aerosols experiment clearly showed how biogenic hydrocarbons from citrus fruit peels, rosemary sprigs, and pine needles generate particles. Photo: Annie Reiser, NOAA.

Ten days later, the outreach team took to the road again for a “Women in Stem” event on May 17. Each year, just as the University of Wyoming students clear out, young women from all over the state liven things up on the quiet “Prexy’s Pasture” in Laramie. This year, the mid-May snow didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of some 520 girls from 24 different schools around the state, who came to the campus to learn about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) opportunities in specially designed workshops. Since 1998, The Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium has been hosting 7th–12th grade girls at this event that continues to grow in size and in the variety of classes offered.

It’s been a spring tradition for the BOCC to support Women in STEM. This year, NOAA post doc and NRC fellowship recipient Carrie Womack joined Annie Reiser at the event. Womack held three hands-on sessions on aerosols, explaining how plant and human-related emissions contribute to making them and how they affect air quality and the global climate. With help from the girls, Womack generated aerosols in a fish tank from an ozone light and biogenic hydrocarbons from citrus peels, rosemary sprigs, and pine needles. With the captivating experiment, this young scientist showed the “just-created” aerosol particles through green and red laser beams that she rigged up to the tank as the girls watched. This was truly science in the making. 

Reiser staffed a well-stocked NOAA table at the event, handing out 100s of posters, fluorescent-colored rulers, pencils, pads, magnets, cloud charts, and icosahedrons while chatting with the students about their science interests, career opportunities, and the research that’s done at NOAA Boulder. "We just happened to be located right next to NWS colleagues from the Cheyenne Weather Forecast Office," said Reiser. "They extended the initial invitation to the event and have also been coming for years."

All in all, it’s been a great start to a season with many opportunities to get the word out about our incredible NOAA science.