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The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Florida Integrated Science Center (FISC) office in St. Petersburg welcomed more than 1,300 visitors to its 9th annual Open House, a 2-day event held November 7-8, 2007. The first day was Public Day, with the campus open to the general public; the second day was dedicated to 4th-grade students and followed the American Geological Institute's 2007 Earth Science Week theme: "The Pulse of Earth Science."
Offering nearly 50 displays, the Open House highlighted many disciplines of Earth science, with a focus on hands-on activities. Biologists provided a live alligator, a lesson in manatee anatomy, and an introduction to the challenges of managing threatened species. Geologists demonstrated coring methods, submarine-mapping concepts, coastal hazards, and the many tools scientists use to study climate change. Several displays on water resources highlighted basic streamflow-measurement techniques and the properties of water, and illustrated ground-water concepts and water-quality issues. Online, real-time USGS water data, such as streamflow measurements, were viewed through an aerial flythrough using a Google Earth application and the National Water Information System. Exhibits about earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes helped visitors appreciate the power of geologic hazards, with several displays rocking, rolling, rumbling, and shaking so that visitors could literally "feel the pulse" of the Earth.
The USGS exhibitors were joined by community partners that included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Friends of Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s National Marine Fisheries and National Weather Services, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Sarasota County, Mote Marine Laboratory, Tampa Bay Watch, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the Pier Aquarium, the University of South Florida (USF)'s College of Marine Science, and the University of Florida's SeaGrant program. In addition to presenting displays, many of these agencies and partners contributed handout materials for students and visiting educators.
A special section of the Public Day Open House was created to host educators. Coordinated by Theresa Burress and library intern Mary Halpern, this section offered USGS resource materials and additional items donated by community partners to complement the exhibits. Such offerings were quite popular, as evidenced by teacher Deirdre Dempsey of the Northside Christian School KARAT program, who had visited the St. Petersburg center earlier in the year looking for guidance on geologic lesson plans. Dempsey was so enthusiastic about USGS online educational earthquake resources that she brought two examples of her students' earthquake models to the Open House. "All my students did a great job, but 10th-grader J.D. Anderson and 9th-grader Billy Truxal did such a great job that I just had to share. We all learned so much about earthquakes by simply following lessons and activities that came straight from the USGS. Not only did we all learn a lot, it sparked great interest in all of us about Earth science; that's why I had to return for the Open House to see what other great ideas and materials I could find."
Of the numerous teachers who visited the Open House, many attended with large organized groups. As part of a professional-development day, for example, Baypoint Elementarya USGS partner school in the St. Petersburg Mayor's Corporate Sponsor Partner program and a Top Apple award winnersent all of its teachers to the event, along with all the teachers from Baypoint Middle School. Baypoint Elementary's principal Gaye Lively also attended. Professor Malcolm Butler, of USF-St. Petersburg's Science Education Department, brought his class of soon-to-be science teachers to the Open House to gather ideas and information.
Several USGS guests came from afar to participate in the event, including Gayle Sisler (Reston, Virginia), Stacy Bushee (Reston, Virginia), Arturo Torres (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), Kim Crutchfield (Columbia, South Carolina), and Susan Russell-Robinson (Reston, Virginia). Retired USGS hydrologist Craig Hutchinson participated as a tour guide to learn more about FISC in preparation for hosting an annual meeting of USGS Water Resources Discipline retirees in 2008.
Further contributions came from 42 National Honor Society (NHS) students from Seminole High School, who volunteered their time to earn community-service hours. They were organized by senior Richard Livingstone and NHS advisor Susan Wolodkowitz. This group helped handle the crowd of 1,000 4th-graders by assisting scientists at their booths, distributing refreshments, and serving as tour guides.
Awards were given to the most exceptional displays in each of three categories: "Best Science Communicator," "Most Interactive Exhibit," and "Most High-Tech." Each prize was worth $1,000 toward covering expenses to attend a scientific meeting of the winner's choice. Three judgesFISC Director Barry Rosen, Associate Program Coordinator for Coastal and Marine Geology Susan Russell-Robinson, and geologist Shawn Dadismanvisited each booth and assessed it for overall effectiveness in communicating through visuals; quality of graphical representations; success in conveying scientific understanding, prompting inquiry, and providing a hands-on, "real" experience; use of materials in an innovative way; success in modeling and simulating real scenarios; and illustration of new technical methods or use of highly technical methods to illustrate a scientific concept. The competition was especially close, with several exhibits finishing within one or two points of each other.
Tracking Hurricanes by Karen Morgan won "Best Science Communicator." This exhibit featured an interactive model coastline community experiencing a hurricane. As the "hurricane" (an electric fan) approached the coastal area, wind-induced waves acted upon the coastal sediment, which responded in such a way that all major coastal processes and associated hazards were observable in a relatively short time. Visitors at the booth could rebuild, alter construction methods, and try to predict coastal response. Susan Russell-Robinson remarked that this exhibit was quite a hit at the Open House in Reston the previous week, adding that it "was extremely relevant to Florida residents and a perfect way to highlight our research-program objectives."
The award for "Most Interactive Exhibit" went to Catch Climate Fever, created by Wendy Kelly and Katie Merriweather. This exhibit included several hands-on stations that described, in an interactive way, the concepts which help scientists investigate climate history. It included hand-size models of foraminifera and pollen grains that brought into plain view some elusive microscopic details which scientists use to decipher the Earth's climate history. According to judge Dadisman, "This exhibit gave the nonscientists an appreciation for the tools used in understanding climate change by illustrating critical concepts about stratigraphy and time."
The Geowall, hosted by Rob Wertz and Brendan Dwyer, won the award for "Most High-Tech." In this exhibit, visitors don 3D glasses and then navigate through three-dimensional landscapes and structural features on and beneath the Earth's surface. This was a thrilling experience for many and used the 3D imagery to convey many complex concepts about the Earth. Special thanks go to Chris Polloni at the USGS office in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, for providing this exhibit.
FISC Director Barry Rosen proudly gave out the awards and acknowledged everyone's contribution to making this event a great success. "When you tour the displays, you get a real feel for the broad and multidisciplinary aspect of our science programs. We are especially thankful that so many partners are able to participate in the event."
Other notable awards included the "Materials Master" award for McCarron Best, who played an important role in gathering materials and led the way in creating 1,200 take-home goody bags for students and teachers. Nancy Dewitt received the "Button Team Leader" award for organizing the production of more than 2,000 souvenir buttons featuring various scientific images, including scanning-electron-microscope images of coral, aerial imagery of Hurricane Katrina, and photographs of the research vessel G.K. Gilbert deploying sonar equipment.
Other display highlights included Foraminifera Twister, a challenging game in which participants used their knowledge about foraminifera and climate to match left and right feet and hands to either benthic or planktic foraminifera, and warm- or cool-water species. When Kathy Tedesco called out "Left foot, Cibicidoides wuellestorfi," everyone had to think for a moment! You could really "get your hands wet" at Bathy Bottoms, hosted by Nancy Dewitt, where visitors mapped features on a simulated sea floor. Jordan Sanford and Dana Wiese's Shake-O-Meter Earthquake Science was a rocking good time where kids created their own S- and P-waves by working together as a group. Tsunami! triggered a giant earthquake-induced wave that repeatedly inundated a model coastal community. A few scientists were extra-creative in engaging the visitors: Lee Florea demonstrated the spelunking skills needed for conducting karst studies by hanging from a tree in full caving/climbing gear; Chris Kellogg turned a small room into a deep-submarine adventure where she could share stories from her deep-sea coral-ecology work; and Dan Brendle demonstrated how to make streamflow measurements by pumping water around in a canoe full of water.
Visitors could literally picture themselves as scientists in various settings, thanks to materials provided by Randy Hines and Carol Lowenberg of the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The life-size pictureboards, also popular the previous week at the USGS Open House in Reston, Virginia, entertained guests as well as USGS scientists. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of FISC's Open House at St. Petersburg, and brainstorming has already begun on ways to build on this and other exhibits to make next year's Open House really special.
For a list of displays, photographs, and information about previous Open House events, visit URL http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/openhouse/.
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Open House at FISC St. Petersburg
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