This year in Digital WAVE, students are learning all about climate change and how it is related to south Florida environments – specifically mangroves. During class time they are using the same technology and software that scientists, animators, and designers use to model complex systems or create graphics for movies. And students have been using this technology at a state-of-the-art design lab at Miami Dade College-North Campus in order to design their own mangrove trees, which will be part of a 3D virtual exhibit they are creating.
Even though students have the incredible opportunity to create mangroves in a 3D virtual environment, there is also nothing like seeing mangroves in the 3D real environment. So the Digital WAVE students embarked on a trip to Biscayne National Park to go canoeing among the real mangroves. They learned about mangroves’ importance as marine habitats and as a kind of protection for us against the full force of hurricanes. The experience in this fun “outdoor lab” has inspired even more creativity when the students returned to the fun indoor lab. Some students may have temporarily ended up out of the canoe and in the water – but that’s all part of the fun.
Where on Earth could you really prepare for the challenges of space? As it turns out, it’s right in our back yard. NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations project) sends NASA employees to live in Aquarius – an underwater laboratory right off the Florida Keys, to prepare for space travel. Aquarius is located 3.5 miles off Key Largo, and 62 feet under the surface of the water, and NEEMO crewmembers live there for up to 3 weeks at a time. NEEMO missions include astronaut training and testing equipment required for exploring asteroids.
Now use your imagination. Think about trying to accomplish a task that would be pretty simple on land. Shoveling sand. Inserting a screw into machinery. Holding still. Picking up a rock. Breathing. Now imagine doing those tasks underwater (or in space). All these things that we take for granted in our every day lives become much more difficult in space, and trying it out underwater is great practice.
On Saturday October 22nd, 85 participants, including Digital WAVE students, attended an event that featured a live webcast with NEEMO crew, in which they learned about NEEMO missions first hand. Other participants included teachers who were attending a professional development training for APEX (After-School Program Exploring Science), and other high school students from the Upward Bound Math & Science program. During the Q&A with NEEMO crew, participants asked about the challenges of asteroid exploration, and how astronauts train for it. During the daylong event, students also participated in activities stationed throughout the Museum related to asteroid composition, gravity and buoyancy, and projectile motion. And of course, what day would be complete without being able to make and analyze your own impact craters?
When a NASA scientist meets high school students, you may automatically think that it is always the NASA scientist that would be teaching the students. But at the Museum’s Digital WAVE: Warming Winds and Water program, the scientist taught the students, AND the students taught the scientist. At Digital WAVE’s first virtual speaker event of Fall 2011, Dr. Mike Gunson from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California met with Digital WAVE students in Miami to talk about climate change. The event took place in the virtual world of Second Life, and everyone communicated through his or her avatars. Dr. Gunson is an atmospheric scientist and works on the OCO (Orbiting Carbon Observatory) satellite that will map carbon dioxide from space and will “watch the Earth breathe.”
Dr. Gunson speaks to students around the Digital WAVE campfire.
Dr. Gunson talked about how carbon dioxide was “the missing link between soft drinks, forests, ocean acidity, wild fires, cement production, and volcanoes” and how records and observations from ice cores and satellites show how carbon dioxide levels have increased, and how humans have contributed to the problem.
Dr. Gunson explains The Keeling Curve, which shows direct observations of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1958.
Then… students had the opportunity to show Dr. Gunson what they had been working on in virtual worlds. Their avatars led Dr. Gunson’s avatar to where the students are building 3D objects as part of their projects to create virtual climate change exhibits. Getting feedback from a NASA scientist is pretty special. And getting his attention so much so that he asked for an invitation to come back to see their final projects – that’s saying something.
The beginnings of students' virtual exhibit projects on climate change. See the glaciers?
There are times when you’re impressed, and times when you’re really impressed. Seeing the completed student productions at the Digital Wave Family Event was one of those times you had to be really impressed. During the 2-week Digital Wave Summer Academy, high school students learned about climate change while also gaining 3D design skills. Students formed groups, and each group chose a topic – groups chose everything from deforestation and sea level rise to carbon emissions and acid rain. After doing some individual research on their group’s topic, students went to work creating their masterpieces in the virtual world of Second Life. Their challenge was to design and build 3D virtual exhibits and animations, with the goal being to create something that would help others learn about climate change. All the projects turned out to be amazing. Check out just a couple of them that students presented to their families and Museum staff at this event. (Each image has a description of that group’s topic below the image.) And just try not to be impressed by what these students learned and created.
Before (left): A healthy forest with a big glacier nearby, and a house sitting a safe distance from the water’s edge. After (right): After deforestation by humans has destroyed the forest, all the carbon which has been stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere, accelerating the atmosphere’s warming greenhouse effect, which melts ice, raises sea levels, and affects environments and habitats.
Visitors to this theatre may sit and enjoy a short video (also created by this student group) about the effects of climate change on the Earth’s polar regions. They would learn that the Antarctic Peninsula’s temperature has risen 5.4degrees since 1950; and that by the end of the century, sea levels could rise by 3 feet. Visitors could then start a simulation on the exhibit to the right – as the ice sheets melt, the sea level rises.
What’s the connection between human industries, natural environments, and acid rain? This simulation displays a factory, illustrating how industrial activities, and the burning of fossil fuels, increase greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. This can then change the chemistry of the atmosphere, soils, forests, and oceans – acid rain and ocean acidification can in turn affect soils, vegetation, and ocean habitats.
Field trips don’t normally include seeing an unidentified sea creature squirt purple ink on someone’s hand. Students participating in the Digital Wave Summer Academy who went on a field trip to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature on Key Biscayne got to see this, and tons more. First, everyone got a lesson in how to safely walk into the sea grass beds off of the coast of Key Biscayne – everyone needs to be safe for their own sakes, but also for the sake of the creatures that call the water and the sea grass home. For example – when you reach a sandbar, you should drag your feet along the bottom so that any stingrays there feel your presence in advance and swim away. It’s good sense – watch where you’re going, and don’t step on a stingray camouflaged on the seafloor. (They’re not used to being touched, like the stingrays in the Museum’s stingray touch tank!)
Students were given nets, and told how to drag them along the sea grass beds, and then gently but quickly lift them from the water to see if anything was caught. Our guides had buckets of seawater so we could observe what we found and learn about them. We saw starfish, box fish, and even a slug-looking creature that was so scared (or angry) at being caught, that it squirt out purple ink as a defense mechanism into the hand of the nature guide holding it – it even temporarily made his hand feel numb! Anyone know what kind of creature this was?
Making Movies. Creating and scripting 3-D animations. Navigating in virtual worlds. Customizing your own avatars. Learning about climate change and its effects on South Florida. Designing structures to withstand hurricanes. Combine all of these elements, and you get the Museum’s program entitled Digital WAVE: Warming Winds and Water. Nineteen students participated in a two-week summer program in which they were able to do all these things. Students learned about climate change and its effects on South Florida, including how hurricane intensity and frequency may be related, and designed and built their own virtual 3-D structures with the help of an experienced technology teacher and mentor. Then they watched what happened as their virtual hurricanes roared past their structures.
At the end of the two weeks, the Museum held a Family Day Finale Event and Student Showcase for Digital WAVE. Each student created a short movie which showed their structures either withstanding or being destroyed by their virtual hurricanes, and also featured some photos and other work the students had completed. Parents and other family members were invited to see the Student Showcase and hear about students’ work and experiences. After passing out certificates for completing the program, and eating some cake, the big question from the students came, as they started to leave: “When is the next program I can sign up for?”
Most everyone was told growing up about how when a tree is cut down, you can look at the tree rings to figure out the tree’s age, and also how much the tree grew each year. Dendrochronology deals with this type of science, which can help us understand environmental conditions in the past – and even tell us whether a Viking ship was built in the year 819 or 820. Dr. Kevin Helmle, who is a research scientist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), talked to students participating in the Digital WAVE program about another way to “tell time.” He works in sclerochronology, which means using layers in coral cores, in a similar way as rings in tree trunks. Annual layers of coral growth can be studied to provide information on environmental and climate history over many past centuries. Dr. Helmle brought real coral cores to show, and also showed students x-ray images of interior coral layers (see image below). By looking at the size and density of the layers, scientists like Dr. Helmle can determine things like the water temperature, water chemistry, and exposure to light the coral experienced at that time. Students then looked at the coral x-ray images, identified layers that corresponded to important years in their lives (or in history), and looked at real data for that year to find out what was going on in the oceans at that time. Just like real sclerochronologists!
X-radiographic positive print (left) with annual density bands (dark bands = high density, and light bands = low density) and a photograph of the coral slab (right). Helmle, K. P., and R. E. Dodge (2011), Sclerochronology, in Encyclopedia of Modern Coral Reefs; Structure, Form and Process, edited by D. Hopley, pp. 958-966, Springer Verlag. Doi:10.1007/978-90-481-2639-2_22
There is a saying that goes: if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito. When it comes to the subject of climate change, it seems unbelievable that we can each make a positive difference on the Earth, but it’s true. This week Dr. Amy Clement came to speak to students in the Digital WAVE program at the Museum. Dr. Clement is a professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. She studies the behavior of the Earth’s climate system, and Digital WAVE students are working in virtual worlds designing 3D objects related to climate change, so it was a great fit. Dr. Clement talked with students about things humans can do to help, like conservation, renewable energy, carbon capture, land use planning, and ecosystem management. The image below shows what Florida coastlines would look like with a 1 meter (about 3 feet) sea level rise – all of the red areas would be underwater! It’s clear we need to do what we can to slow or reverse the effects of climate change. We may be tiny compared to the Earth, but so are mosquitoes compared to us.
On May 21, 2011, almost 100 people participated in a mixed-reality, virtual visit with Astronaut Leland Melvin: about half in the Space Gallery at the Miami Science Museum and half via Second Life. We captured over an hour of Mr. Melvin’s fascinating and inspiring talk, but you can view highlights here:
We just had an amazing, inspiring talk with Astronaut Leland Melvin in Second Life. Almost 100 students from the Museum’s youth development programs participated. Here are a few shots from in-world… Video clips are coming soon.
Teen avatars float above virtual Earth with Astronaut Melvin.
We truly appreciate the time and dedication that Astronaut Melvin put into this event and look forward to hearing from him again in the future.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-0929731. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.