UW News

February 11, 2010

Go to the poles in your imagination at annual Polar Science Weekend

Hands-on exhibits, UW polar experts and a bit of imagination will transport you and your family to the extreme environments of the Arctic and Antarctica later this month during Polar Science Weekend at Pacific Science Center.

The event, presented by the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory in partnership with the science center, offers a chance to forage like a tusked narwhal whale, don a hooded cold-weather parka, get a feel for camping on the ice and learn about the latest polar research being conducted by the UW and other Pacific Northwest scientists. Hours Feb. 25 and 26 are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Feb. 27 and 28, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Click here for a schedule.

Behind the scenes, scientists who are experts at interpreting data and writing journal articles about such things as ice-albedo feedback and laser measurements of ice thickness are this year becoming experts at interpreting their work for the general public. Thanks to a NASA grant, more than a dozen scientists and graduate students, mostly from the UW, have been taking Pacific Science Center workshops on communicating with the public and designing effective exhibits.

This Saturday researchers crafting exhibits for Polar Science Weekend will test their prototypes on teenagers from the center’s Discovery Corps program and then have time to make adjustment before the main event, according to Harry Stern, a mathematician with the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, who is lead organizer of Polar Science Weekend and principal investigator on the NASA grant.

The grant for more than half a million dollars over three years funds the workshops, the development of 10 new hands-on activities created by the scientists as well as a more long-term exhibit on polar research.

“Participants are learning how to reach elementary and middle school children, one focus of Polar Science Weekend,” Stern says. “But we also want to reach older students and adults. There are a lot of intelligent adults who just may not have thought much about the polar regions.”

Also as part of the feedback process for the event, which has been held each year since 2006, UW graduate students studying museology — the design and organization of museums — will be formally evaluating the exhibits and making suggestions.

After the event, the best three activities that don’t require full-time staffing will be chosen for further testing in coming months. That will lead to a single, month-long interactive exhibit at Pacific Science Center starting in December or January. This allows the public another month to become acquainted with polar research by UW and other local scientists, in addition to the Polar Science Weekend itself, Stern says.

Last year Polar Science Weekend exhibits were presented by more than 30 researchers and graduate students from the UW’s APL, oceanography, Earth and space sciences, aquatic and fishery sciences, as well as off-campus participants from such places as the U.S. Coast Guard.