Museum Exhibits Open Doors With Help From IEEE Foundation

Weather forecasting and the achievements of women engineers are the focus

8 August 2008

With the help of hard-working IEEE volunteers and funding from the IEEE Foundation, two museums now have new exhibits, one about weather forecasting and the other about the achievements of women engineers through history.

The Weather Radar exhibit opened in May at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, N.Y. In March, the Initiating and Sustaining Change display opened at the Women at Work Museum in Attleboro, Mass. By providing funds for both exhibits, the IEEE Foundation continues its mission to improve the technological literacy of the public.

The idea for the Weather Radar exhibit stems from IEEE Life Fellow David Weissman’s role as public relations director of the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society. Weissman says he was looking for a way to inform the public about geoscience and remote sensing. He realized that museums were an underused venue because they often lacked resources to create science exhibits. Relying on a simulated radar, the hands-on exhibit he helped develop allows visitors to experiment with what weather radar does best: measure rain intensity. “The exhibit demonstrates how a radar beam transmits and receives radar pulses from raindrops of various sizes,” Weissman says. “We wanted to show how the NEXRAD radars, operated by the National Weather Service, function.”

Weissman, an electrical engineering professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., proposed the project to the IEEE Foundation. A US $21 280 grant enabled him to turn to students at Pratt Institute in New York City to design the project. His society also provided funds for the work.

RADAR BASICS Visitors to the exhibit learn how a radar signal is transmitted and how a weather radar scans the sky observing reflections from rain. An animated weatherman explains the principles of radar operation and how to trigger the radar beam and choose among several sizes of raindrops as targets. The animated instructor goes on to explain the properties of the target and of the returning radar signal. The sound of thunder can occasionally be heard rumbling in the background.

“The exhibit is intended to give the visitor an enjoyable experience as well as provide accurate information that can challenge and guide young, inquisitive minds,” says Weissman. “We hope a young museum visitor would develop an interest in engineering and design by interacting with the exhibit.”

The Weather Radar exhibit will be at the Cradle of Aviation Museum indefinitely. Plans are being considered to create a traveling version.

SPOTLIGHT ON WOMEN The idea for the Initiating and Sustaining Change exhibit came about from the relationship between IEEE Fellow Karen Panetta, chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering Committee, and the Women at Work Museum. Panetta got to know the museum staff after being invited to speak there. When the museum decided to create an exhibit about women engineers, they turned to Panetta and WIE for guidance, and obtained a $10 000 grant from the IEEE Foundation.

“Partnerships like this one are a great way for IEEE to reach out to communities and to show the world how great a resource IEEE is,” says Panetta. “Young people need role models, and the exhibit includes women who are changing the world today.”

To museum treasurer Kelly Fox, the exhibit has been successful beyond her expectations. On opening night, for example, more than 50 young women “stayed long past when we thought we’d be finished,” she says.

The museum recently added a traveling version of the exhibit, which so far has made stops in New York and Los Angeles. At the exhibit’s opening in March, the museum also hosted a panel of female engineers who discussed career choices and opportunities for young women interested in engineering. Panetta was the keynote speaker.

The IEEE Foundation depends upon the generosity of its donors to enable it to support projects such as these. You can ensure the IEEE Foundation has the resources it needs for its work by making a contribution at http://www.ieeefoundation.org and clicking “Donate Online.”

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