Generations connect at Grandparents University

July 23, 2015 | Sarah Witman

SSEC scientist Tony Wendricks and grandkids look over the edge of the Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences building. Credit: Sarah Witman, SSEC.

For the 11th year in a row, the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) will participate in Grandparents University, taking place this Thursday and Friday on campus.

The two-day program, hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association, annually invites students between the ages of 9 and 14 and their grandparents to take part in a number of hands-on educational activities in a “major” of their choosing.

Margaret Mooney, outreach lead for SSEC’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS), is the “dean” for the meteorology major. Mooney and associate outreach specialist Carissa Bunge will be leading the group on an exploration of weather science.

Grandchildren and grandparents alike will get a taste of what it is like to be a meteorology student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A balloon launch on the Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences rooftop during Grandparents University in 2008. Credit: SSEC.

A balloon launch from the Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences rooftop during Grandparents University in 2008. Credit: SSEC.

First, the group will learn about the critical role that UW-Madison plays in the field of satellite meteorology – starting with the legacy of SSEC’s co-founder, Vern Suomi. They will then get a tour of the Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences (AOSS) rooftop – the second tallest building in Madison – to identify local landmarks using real satellite images.

Back on the ground, they will learn about weather processes through interactive computer modules and animated satellite imagery presented on a 3D globe. They will also craft their own anemometer and model weather satellite, and assemble a solar bead bracelet to learn about the electromagnetic spectrum.

The program features a variety of expert “instructors” to guide students in their studies.

For one lesson, library and media director Jean Phillips will explain how scientists study snow crystals – just like those in the historic collection of photomicrographs in the Schwerdtfeger Library – and instruct students how to grow their own snowflakes. In another, research meteorologist David Mikolajczyk will lead a virtual tour of Antarctica, where he has traveled several times in his work with the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center (AMRC).

NOAA’s Tim Schmit will share the excitement and promise of the GOES-R satellite series, and SSEC research intern Samantha Tushaus will demonstrate satellite applications of the Suomi NPP satellite.

A highlight for all will be a rooftop weather balloon launch conducted by SSEC researchers Michelle Feltz and David Loveless. Beyond the excitement of the launch, students will learn about the data collected and transmitted from weather balloons and their importance to weather scientists.

by Sarah Witman