Weather workshop predicts successful outcomes for teachers, students

The University of Chicago to host Workshop on Teaching Weather and Climate Using Laboratory Experiments 18-20 June 2008

Although the subject often makes headlines in the media, the scientific principles behind the weather and climate change are not readily understood. By mimicking nature in the laboratory, Noboru Nakamura, Associate Professor, Department of Geophysical Sciences, The University of Chicago, uses a "seeing-is-believing" approach that has proven very effective in the classroom.Some 45 educators and top researchers in the field from nine countries will attend a 3-day workshop led by Nakamura and fellow scientist John Marshall from MIT on "Teaching Weather and Climate Using Laboratory Experiments" 18-20 June 2008 at the University. The 2 1/2day program will include speakers, discussions, presentations and laboratory demonstrations.

The program's goal is to bring together instructors and students of atmospheric/oceanic/climate sciences interested in the pedagogy involving physical experiments and provide a platform for exchanging ideas on experimental designs, curriculum development and evaluations, and building a network of common resources.

"The actual demo in the lab is a great teaching tool," said Nakamura."We would like to share our experience because we are among only a handful of universities in the nation that has the capability to teach weather and climate by using physical labs."

During the demonstration, colored dyes will be released into a slowly spinning tank of water to reveal the swirling vortices that form much like they do in Earth's atmosphere. Although water is used instead of air to simulate the atmosphere, both water and air are fluids that behave in similar ways when the motions are slow. The laboratory contains a plasma screen that shows an image looking down on the weather simulation captured by a camera mounted on the ceiling.

Moreover, the program will give students from Chicago's Latino and African-American communities the opportunity to witness weather patterns up close and personal. Fifteen students and their science teachers from Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy - Instituto del Progreso Latino and El Cuarto A~no - Association House and Community Youth Development Institute are invited to attend the laboratory demonstrations on Wednesday, June 18.

"It is a privilege to meet this international community of scientists," said Patricia Mu~noz-Rocha, Senior Educational Charter/Pathways Specialist from Instituto."Our students have had to overcome a lot of adversity to complete their education.This experience will allow the students to see first-hand how science impacts their lives which could lead them someday to pursue a career in science."

The pedagogy has worked very well at the college level, says Nakamura and with some modification, he believes that it will also work for grades K-12.The approach is also intended to help stimulate interest in physical science."There will be time for students to ask questions and it will be a wonderful opportunity for them to interact with the world-class scientists in weather/climate prediction and oceanography," says Nakamura.

The Dave Fultz Memorial Laboratory for Hydrodynamics, where the student demonstration will take place, opened in 2005 and is dedicated to the memories of the late Professor Dave Fultz, who pioneered many revealing fluid experiments concerning the atmospheres and oceans of rotating planets. Fultz became famous in the 1950s and 1960s for his "dishpan experiments," which are reproduced for students in the laboratory.

For more information about the workshop, go to