Monday, December 13, 2010

From the Ed Side: Exploration Station

It's 4 am in San Francisco - isn't jet lag wonderful?

Yesterday, I spent about 6 hours at the AGU Exploration Station, part of the public outreach/family oriented events held at the meeting. It's relatively new - I think this was its second year - and a chance for families in San Francisco (and guests of scientists at the meeting) to explore some of the science being highlighted at the meeting. For this year's CloudSat booth, we had an ultrasonic transducer setup to "fly" over kids heads to demonstrate active remote sensing similar to that of the cloud radar on our satellite. I also had some "cloud in a bottle" demos - allowing families to think about and explore what makes a cloud. For me, it's a day of fielding really basic questions about clouds. I love it, because inevitably, those simple questions can really test your understanding, like when a woman asked me why different wind directions cause the fog in San Francisco bay to take on very different appearances - a question spurred on by my demos.

The best part for me is when a kid wants to experiment. My last visitor of the day was a young man who couldn't have been more than 6 years old, who kept trying to measure the height of different objects using the ultrasonic transducer. At one point, I bumped the stand I had been using and it started causing the sensor to sway up and down, making the ground look like it too was moving up and down. He noticed the change in the data, and immediately realized that something had changed, looked around, and then identified the problem in the apparatus. That true scientific moment was the highlight of my day.

I hope that some of you would consider participating in this kind of event in the future. I find I get as much out of it (if not more) than the public participants do.

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