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From the atmosphere to an app

Speed read
  • Climate models provide a virtual and augmented reality experience.
  • Scaling down large amounts of data was a challenge for developers.
  • The applications make abstract science more accessible to students.

Making scientific content engaging and interesting is one of the challenges in communicating complex scientific ideas.

It gets particularly tricky with atmospheric science. The data sets involved with the field are huge: some are as big as several terabytes in size.

The whole world in your hands. Meteo-AR is an augmented reality app that introduces a fun way to explore geoscience data. Courtesy UCAR;NCAR;CISL.

Even those with a technical background would face a wall of numbers so immense that they would have trouble making out what the data said.

This is where the Meteo VR (virtual reality) and Meteo AR (augmented reality) apps come into play. The apps are an interactive, creative way to visualize atmospheric science data from climate models.

“We want to make these apps as educational as possible,” says Nihanth Cherukuru, a doctoral student at Arizona State University and lead researcher on the project. “The data you see is very interactive and it’s a newer technology. It serves as a starting point for a dialogue to teach science concepts.”

Visitors download the app and use it from smartphones in conjunction with VR/AR devices like Google Cardboard. They can then spin a virtual globe with modeled data of atmospheric science that shows information about subjects like climate change, water vapor patterns, and El Niño.

An issue of scale

Cherukuru developed the apps alongside Tim Scheitlin and Matt Rehme at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR) Computational and Information Systems Lab (CISL).

Scaling down the large amounts of atmospheric data so it could be accessed on a cell phone was one of the challenges the researchers had to overcome.

“So many people have so many different smart phones that have different capabilities,” Rehme says. “Since phones are limited in the amount of data they can store, the data to run the app must be transferred over a wireless connection. This presents an additional challenge in using this platform.”

Meteorological data in the classroom

The apps are designed for use by a wide audience, including students and non-experts. For instance, the apps can be used to illustrate abstract ideas like climate science, making them a useful educational tool in science classes.<strong>Real science. </strong> <a href= 'http://www.vis.ucar.edu/~meteo-ar/'>The Meteo Augmented Reality app</a> displays animated interactive virtual objects like globes and hurricanes. Courtesy UCAR; NCAR; CISL.

“It’s really about making the science accessible,” Scheitlin says. “Sometimes science is this weird, black box that people don’t understand. I think this app makes science more concrete because it gives the user some context and some representation of what a climate model really looks like.”

The researchers hope that future versions of the app will allow the user to insert their own datasets to customize the educational experience.

“If a teacher wants to start a discussion about climate change,” Cherukuru says, “they could put their data into the classroom server and customize the dataset for that particular class.”

Future iterations also have potential for inserting real time atmospheric data and augmented reality controls. Students could learn about the data as it is coming through, making lessons about weather patterns relevant as they see changes in the atmosphere by the minute.

So if you've got a smartphone, download Meteo AR or VR for an engaging, informative way to learn about atmospheric science.

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