Science on a Sphere

Photo by Will von Dauste

What would you get if you crossed a map of the world with the Discovery Channel? You’d get something close to Science on a Sphere, a mash-up of science data and video artistry.

SOS is a cool piece of technology that can illustrate — with compelling imagery and narrative — earth science to audiences at museums, zoos, universities and research institutions around the world.

SOS is a globe with a 68-inch diameter (about the width of a car) onto which a video is projected. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration created it to help explain complex environmental processes, such as ocean currents and weather patterns, happening across the planet.

With support from the Institute on the Environment, the Science Museum of Minnesota is creating an SOS film series focused on global change. Led by Patrick Hamilton, IonE resident fellow and director of the museum’s Global Change Initiatives, the project already has produced four short films — currently on the playlist at SMM — about how humans dominate and change the planet. Three are about how humans are changing Earth’s land surface, ocean, and atmosphere and star two IonE researchers. Kate Brauman, lead scientist at IonE’s Global Water Assessment, contributed to the film on water and Tracy Twine, co-leader of Islands in the Sun, a collaboration of IonE and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences that monitors the Twin Cities heat island, is featured in the film about the Earth’s atmosphere. The fourth film explores the human capacity to innovate solutions to big environmental challenges.

Brauman routinely uses maps to explain her research on the implications of agriculture on water resources, but says maps have their limitations.

“We’re great at making maps, they’re good for telling stories. But one thing we wrestle with is they are flat and static.” With SOS, she says, audiences can not only see all points on the globe where corn is grown, for example, but also the variations of corn yields based on water use. “And you can see the corn growing,” she says.

“It’s a great way to get our research out to the public,” explains Twine . She says SOS can be tailored to the topic or audience.

“Producers have created the movie in a way that chapters can be selected to be shown by any institution with the Science on a Sphere,” she says. “In this way the particular institution could just show one part of the movie relevant to an exhibit. This should allow more information to be disseminated broadly to fit the goals of any institution.”

Science on a Sphere is on display as part of the Future Earth exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota and in more than 100  institutions around the world.

Banner photo: Will von Dauster (courtesy of NOAA)