Spark is now known as the UCAR Center for Science Research.
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled,” wrote Plutarch in Ancient Greece.
I think that quote explains our name, Spark, and our philosophy.
We hope the new name for our science education group hints at our goals. We want to spark interest in science, ignite careers in research and careers that solve real-world problems using research results. And we hope to launch collaborative relationships between communities and scientists.
Spark is about engaging people in the wonder and relevance of science. We are particularly interested in inviting new communities and people into science and better connecting science to the priorities and interests of our increasingly diverse world.
And while we love all kinds of science, our focus is on the science that relates to the atmosphere. This includes learning about weather, climate, air pollution, and space weather as well as the tools used to observe the atmosphere and the computer models that allow us to learn how these things work. These areas are the focus of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder Colorado, which – along with 91 universities that govern NCAR through an organization called UCAR – is our partner and our home base.
For people who aren’t (or aren’t yet) professional scientists we offer lots of ways to learn more about, and participate in, our science. Our visitor center in Boulder, Colorado is open every day of the year with a changing suite of exhibits and hands-on interactives. Thousands of kids and adults join us for tours of our laboratory, and we develop customized tours for school groups. We have a new website that offers insight into the latest science and a growing set of interactive and Web 2.0 experiences. Students and teachers join us to work with scientists – either to do science themselves or to create resources to share science. These opportunities include teacher professional development workshops, internships for high school and college students, and leadership training for undergraduates. We are excited about collaborative research and education projects between our scientist, students and faculty from communities we haven’t worked as much with – be they African scientists, students at Historically Black Colleges, faculty at tribal colleges, or members of the rapidly growing Latino demographic.
Since our primary mission is to help ensure that the scientific discoveries and innovations at NCAR and UCAR have broader impact to society, we collaborate with scientists at NCAR and UCAR universities to integrate education or public engagement into scientific projects. If an education project reaches across the organization of NCAR/UCAR, or if it leverages work we do anyway, it is paid for out of base-funds and is free to the scientists and scientific projects. For example, we are developing a new exhibit on weather for our Mesa Lab. Since that exhibit is about activities across NCAR and UCAR, it is not appropriate to charge any one part of UCAR/NCAR for that privilege. Similarly, most of our internship programs place students anywhere at NCAR, so we don’t charge for them.
We also collaborate on outreach projects tied to specific scientific investigations. Since that often doesn’t directly benefit the entire organization, we generally are able to do these projects as part of a grant.
If you are a scientist, we’d like you to know that we take seriously our role of supporting science by helping share it, and we have lots of ways to do it – some free to you, and some we could design together and include as part of a proposal you might be writing. Please contact us and we can figure out what works best.
Whether you are a professional scientist, an aspiring scientist, or an amateur scientist (and I believe we are all amateur scientists because we all notice things about the world around us and wonder about them), I welcome you to Spark and hope you will find worthwhile connections, new understandings – and the sparks of insight that result.