I’ve recently been granted the opportunity to work with one of the coolest educational tools an Earth scientist can be given access to, the NOAA developed Science on a Sphere. SoS is a 6-foot diameter blank canvas sphere upon which images including maps, satellite data, and animations can be projected. These spheres are suspended in the middle of exhibit halls in museums around the world including three of my favorite museums: The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois, Imaloa Astonomy Center in Hilo, Hawaii, and (of course) the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon.
OMSI got it’s SoS in 2009. It’s a central feature in the Earth Science Hall and has been loaded with incredible maps and animations. Depending on the day you’re at the museum and what current events relating to Earth science are occurring, you might see real-time earthquake locations and magnitudes displayed on the globe, tsunami wave propagation animations, or satellite images of hurricanes and other large storm systems. The sphere is also used to project images of other planets and moons.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve used the sphere to teach visiting students and parents about plate tectonics and earthquakes. Obviously these topics can be engaging on their own, but with the use of a stunning visual aid like Science on a Sphere, I have the audience’s full attention. The fact that the projection is controlled via a Wii remote doesn’t hurt, either. When I pull the Wii remote out, kids hone in on it immediately. Even though I have to break the news that there are no games, they still stick around to hear me talk, and love to have me tilt the Earth’s axis, or spin it around for a better look at a location on the horizon. Questions soon follow, and before the kids even know what’s happening to them, they’re learning.
My current project is to develop short educational programs for Science on a Sphere. I’ve got several topics in mind and will hopefully have a couple of nicely polished demonstrations completed by summer. Once they’re ready for public consumption, I’ll definitely post the details here.