Feb. 20, 2007

Cornell class project turns into online educational materials for science museums worldwide

An interactive family forum on global warming and a series of hands-on science activities for children and families, both developed by Cornell students, were featured at the Sciencenter in Ithaca on Feb. 17.

The projects were developed with the Sciencenter with the March 1 launch of the International Polar Year in mind, a worldwide research and educational effort on global warming focusing on changes in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and will be distributed to science museums worldwide. The museum also is launching its own ambitious project, a 10-year sustainability initiative.

The family forum was developed by Stephanie Radi '07 as part of her honors project in leadership from Cornell's College of Human Ecology. It was presented by the Sciencenter's Executive Director Charlie Trautmann, Ph.D. '83, a Cornell adjunct associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and Radi's adviser for the project.

The presentation was followed by a series of interactive activities highlighting the science behind climate change and global warming, which were developed by six students in the course Collaborative Leadership last semester. More than 400 museum visitors explored the new activities at the event.

Using Radi's presentation, Trautmann shared the evidence that scientists consider when studying the effects of global warming by noting such phenomena as the degradation of the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica, the melting of glaciers worldwide and an increase in killer heat waves. He also noted that bleaching of corals caused by slight increases in ocean temperatures and the marked increase in Category 5 hurricane activity are believed by scientists to be further indicators of global warming.

Audience members were given clickers to express their opinions to questions posed during the presentation. One question: "Do you know anyone who lives near an ocean?" prompted an audience discussion on the possible consequences of global warming on populations in coastal areas. Trautmann pointed out that, worldwide, over 100 million people will likely be displaced later this century by the projected continued rise in sea level associated with global warming.

Offering suggestions on how to help curb greenhouse gas emissions, Trautmann suggested using compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs, and cold water to wash clothing, which also reduces the need for burning fossil fuels.

Since today's children are the most likely to see the greatest effects of global warming and will soon play a major role in monitoring the environment and inventing new technologies to move toward a more sustainable future, capturing children's interests are of vital concern, Radi said. "We hope they will grow up with this being something they can actually do something about and thereby create positive change." In addition to her work with the Sciencenter, Radi is also coordinating two weeks of activities at Cornell focused on global warming education and involving environmental groups campuswide.

The Cornell students involved in developing the hands-on science activities were Nishant Trivedi '09, Joanne Kwan '08, Meagan Hajjar '09, Molly Marino '09, Sara Paterson '08 and Katherine McEachern '09. For their class project, they also developed a Web site, Students for Community Environmental Action, which includes activities, facts and teachers' resources on environmental education.

On March 1 both the family forum and hands-on activities will be included in an online toolkit of activities, offered to science museums by their representative group, the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) in Washington, D.C.

Jack Hoge '07 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.