TUPPER LAKE - A new exhibit at The Wild Center will give visitors the chance to access a whole world of knowledge.
On June 15, the nature museum will unveil its new "Planet Adirondack," a large white sphere onto which the Earth and other images are projected to illustrate scientific principles. It will be the first new permanent exhibit since the museum's opening six years ago.
But don't call it an exhibit to the Wild Center staff. They see it more as an experience, because it's interactive and dynamic.
Members of the Tupper Lake Rotary Club are awed by a sneak preview of the Wild Center’s new “Planet Adirondack” exhibit, onto which four projectors display a round image of the moon.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
The "planet," housed in an otherwise empty room that used to be office space and multipurpose conference space, can show a variety of data sets as global maps, including lights at night across the world, population density and weather patterns. It can also show specific weather events, like Hurricane Irene or tsunami currents hitting Japan last year.
Many of the data sets are historical, but staff will also be able to access weather patterns as quickly as two hours after they happen.
Meadow Hackett, a college freshman who helped organize the Wild Center's Youth Climate Summit when she was at Saranac Lake High School, is particularly interested in the data sets that illustrate global climate change. As a volunteer at the museum this summer, she plans to show guests things like population density as compared to carbon emissions, and the past and projected increases of Earth's average temperature over time.
When Hackett was in high school, she and members of the Wild Center staff visited Finland as part of an exchange. At the Heureka Finnish science center, they saw a sphere like the one the Wild Center now has and imagined uses for it in the Adirondacks.
The Science on a Sphere program was created by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Wild Center's sphere is the 82nd in the world and the first in New York. Each facility that has one has the capability of creating its own data sets; it also shares data sets with all the other sphere sites.
The Wild Center's staff looks forward to using the sphere for original, local projects as well as to accessing other facilities' data sets. They already have ideas about working with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to map the migration of local birds like the rare Bicknell's thrush.
The sphere's data sets are informative, but quite a few are aesthetically pleasing as well. Museum employee Tracy Thomas' favorite is a pretty image of ocean currents in which all the land on the planet is black, the water is bright blue, and water movement is shown in bright green and yellow currents.
In addition to Earth, the sphere can show still or moving images of other planets like Jupiter, and it has one image that shows how small the planets are compared to our sun.
In case visitors get antsy during a program, the sphere can also show a few fun images to draw them back in. It will sometimes turn into a disco ball - complete with disco music - a soccer ball or the Death Star from "Star Wars."
Once the exhibit opens, there will be three naturalist-guided programs a day. Staff will create their own playlists to illustrate points and to interest visitors. Since the list of data sets numbers 350 and growing, the exhibit will continue to be dynamic.
"Every time you come in here, it's going to feel and be different," museum Executive Director Stephanie Ratcliffe told the Tupper Lake Rotary Club at a sneak preview Wednesday.
The museum staff is still figuring out how to work the sphere. Thomas led the Rotary Club's Wednesday preview, but she was still figuring out how to work the controls.
"My steering is a little bit off right now," Thomas said. "I need to learn to drive better."
Staff control the sphere with a Wii remote or iPad. Eventually the museum plans to install a kiosk with an iPad at which guests will be able to control the sphere.
The Rotary Club was one of several local groups that have been given sneak previews of the exhibit since its three-day installation in early May. Museum spokeswoman Tracey Legat said people have been excited about it, especially local teachers.
Retired science teacher Kathy Lefebvre was one of the Rotary members who attended Wednesday. She said she thinks the sphere will be a great resource for teachers in Tupper Lake and nearby schools, as well as for local groups like the Adirondack Public Observatory.
"It's going to be an asset to the community," Lefebvre said.
Legat said the museum is hoping to work with teachers, college professors and others to use the sphere for research and educational programming.
Planet Adirondack opens to the public on Friday, June 15. The day before that, Paul Smith's College geologist Curt Stager and Wild Center naturalist Rob Carr will lead a "Planetcast," an introduction to the sphere that will be broadcast live online.
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or email@example.com.