NCAR redesigns visitor center at Wyoming supercomputing facility

Interactive exhibits and videos emphasize the importance of data to science

May 9, 2023 - by David Hosansky

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has finished a complete redesign of the visitor center at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) in Cheyenne, installing a series of new videos and interactive displays to highlight the role of supercomputing in scientific discovery. The visitor center reopens to the public May 15.

The NWSC is one of the nation’s leading computational facilities for the geosciences, offering both high-performance computing and extensive data storage. The center’s newest supercomputer, named Derecho, will begin operations later this year with the capability of performing 19.87 quadrillion calculations per second. This will enable researchers at NCAR and across the United States to advance understanding of climate, weather, geological processes, and space weather, among other aspects of the Earth system.

The visitor center redesign was funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR’s sponsor.

A central theme of the visitor center is the importance of data to such scientific research. The new exhibits walk visitors through the flow of data, beginning with observations of the atmosphere and other components of the Earth system. Visitors learn how such data are fed into models that run on powerful supercomputers, visualized in a way that helps scientists detect patterns and trends, and ultimately curated and stored so they’re accessible to the broader research community.

“Although big data is fundamental for advancing research, it can be challenging to explain how it enables scientists to gain new insights into our planet,” said A.J. Lauer, the community and workforce development director for NCAR’s computing lab. “One of our goals with the new exhibit is to demystify the role of data for scientific discovery.”

Interactive exhibits help explain how data are handled. One video game, for example, allows visitors to fly an airplane over a hurricane and release instruments known as dropsondes into the storm, collecting information about temperature, humidity, and wind speed. Another interactive exhibit enables visitors to engage in “data racing,” in which they manage traffic in order to get as many racecar packets as possible through a computing network.

The exhibits also illustrate the ways that NCAR scientists use data to advance science and help society. These include developing systems to reduce aircraft delays, predict floods and droughts, understand the Sun’s magnetic fields that create disruptive solar storms, and identify regional vulnerabilities to sea level rise.

Other highlights of the visitor center include an actual rack from a former NWSC supercomputer, information about the NWSC and its 11-year history, a video about the future of supercomputing, and video greetings from NCAR Director Everette Joseph and University of Wyoming Vice President for Research and Economic Development Parag Chitnis.

The visitor center is open to walk-ins Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no admission charge. Docent-led tours of the computing rooms and facility are available for those in 9th grade and older and can be booked in advance here.


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