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NWSC Visitor Center Designed to Educate and Inspire Public about Science


October 2, 2012 — A simulated mini-tornado, various short videos depicting everything from wind to wildfire simulations, and a number of interactive touch-screen kiosks will make their debut and help the science come alive when the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) is ceremonially opened Oct. 15 by an invite-only delegation composed of the many partners behind its construction.

Following the opening, the NWSC will be home to a public visitor center designed as an educational hub to engage the public and explain the NWSC’s science mission, supercomputing systems, computational science and highlights of the facility’s energy efficient design; and also convey the facility’s scientific and societal benefits, says Marijke Unger, NCAR’s external relations specialist.

The visitor center will include educational, interactive displays -- for children and adults alike -- covering topics including extreme weather, climate science, supercomputing, wildfires, energy, water resources and their impacts on society.

The NWSC, located in Cheyenne’s North Range Business Park, will be open for one-time, special public tours from noon-4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16; and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17. Thereafter, self-guided tours of the visitor center will be offered 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays. Large groups are asked to call ahead to make reservations at (307) 996-4321.

Target audiences will include K-5, middle school, high school, post-secondary, computational science professionals and the public.

“The visitor center is really for all members of the community,” Unger says. “We’re also setting it up to be user-friendly for school groups, with an emphasis on self-guided learning and exploration.”

The visitor center contains several display stations, which will focus on science, supercomputing and the NWSC, plus a section dedicated to younger visitors.

The science section will focus on science and research from NCAR, the University of Wyoming and the atmospheric sciences community. Some examples include climate models, wildfire simulations, wind shear studies and carbon sequestration. How these examples affect people’s everyday lives, improve safety, and help inform policy and decision making will be included.

The computational science display will provide an introduction to computational science; convey challenges and research, including limitations and explorations of new frontiers; university collaborations and programs; and the role of computational science in everyday life.

Finally, the exhibit also includes a section about the societal impact of research conducted at the NWSC. Climate, microbursts, wildfires, winds, aviation safety, solar phenomena, extreme weather and advances in forecasting are among the subjects covered.

The NWSC visitor center includes a “Young Scientist Stations” feature, which includes a simulated mini-tornado demonstration.“We also have a center dedicated to younger visitors. There will be touch screens and a video of a mini-tornado simulation that kids can play with,” Unger says. “There will be a station that measures how quickly you can swipe your hand across a sensor, and then tells you how many calculations the supercomputer can do in that amount of time.”

Gizmojo, a Cheyenne company, was chosen to create and build the visitor center.

“We’re looking forward to this visitor center becoming a fixture and active participant in the Wyoming and regional educational landscape,” says Richard Loft, director of technology and development at NCAR.

In related news, the “Discover Earth: A Century of Change” science exhibit is open to the public at the Laramie County Library in Cheyenne through Nov. 2. The Laramie County Library System was one of 10 libraries nationwide selected to host the interactive exhibit, which is funded through a National Science Foundation grant and was created by the National Center for Interactive Learning at the Space Science Institute. UW and the Wyoming State Museum have provided additional materials for the exhibit.

About the NWSC

The NWSC is the result of a partnership among the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR); the University of Wyoming; the state of Wyoming; Cheyenne LEADS; the Wyoming Business Council; and Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power. The NWSC is operated by NCAR under sponsorship of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The NWSC will contain one of the world's most powerful supercomputers dedicated to advancing our understanding of atmospheric science in areas such as climate change and severe weather, which are topics of vital importance to our society. The supercomputer, dubbed “Yellowstone,” is capable of 1.5 petaflops, or 1.5 quadrillion computer operations per second. The NWSC also will house a high-speed disk storage system containing 11 petabytes of data -- roughly 1,000 times larger than the print holdings of the Library of Congress -- and a tape archival facility that will hold, for further analysis, massive quantities of data including meteorological observations, climate records, computer model output and more.

For some preview video clips of the NWSC and the visitor center, go to http://www.ucar.edu/multimedia/videos/2012/NWSC-visiters-center/

Photo:
Jim Edwards, an NCAR scientist, and Ligia Bernardet interact with one of the science touch-screen kiosks at the NWSC visitor center. The NWSC, located in the North Range Business Park, will be open for one-time, special public tours from noon-4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16; and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17.

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