The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Center for Science Education (SciEd) in Boulder, Colorado, has launched a new virtual tour application that enables users to visit the iconic Mesa Lab, as well as the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 360° virtual environments.
Alongside a series of weather and climate exhibits at the Mesa Lab, SciEd is also set to launch new content such as taking a virtual walk along the Walter Orr Roberts interpretive weather trail that sits behind the Mesa Lab. UCAR SciEd is currently seeking feedback on the virtual tours through a survey of app users.
“We’re trying to figure out what content people like best,” said Katie Wolfson, SciEd’s school and public programs manager. “Should we add more videos? More augmented reality? Which features are the most engaging?”
The physical exhibits at the Mesa Lab have been a long-established way for in-person visitors to explore the science being undertaken at NCAR. Exhibit areas focus on weather, climate and the sun-Earth connection, as well as providing an inside look at NCAR-facilitated airborne field campaigns and the history of the lab’s unique architecture. The physical exhibits at the NWSC highlight the vast power of supercomputing and its importance for investigating the complex connections in the Earth system.
In the virtual tour app, visitors can move through all of the exhibits at both locations. In some cases, the online content provides a unique experience. For example, virtual visitors can rotate and spin objects that in-person visitors can only see mounted in a fixed position. This includes a dropsonde — an instrument dropped into hurricanes to collect data used to improve storm forecasts. Visitors can also tune into a webcast and take a virtual tour led by Wolfson and her SciEd colleague Tim Barnes.
Emily Snode-Brenneman, a member of the SciEd team, said, “Our virtual strategy has allowed us to continue to engage the public and actually reach more people in more places. We are excited to have re-opened our Boulder-based exhibits to the public, but we have no plans to stop our virtual programming. In fact, we plan to keep expanding the content so people from all over have the opportunity to experience NCAR.”