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Outreach

Good Time Had by All at USGS Open House in Menlo Park, CA


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A family poses in front of the green screen at the 'Dress Like a Marine Geologist' activity

Clint Steele digitally places the family in a marine field setting

The family at sea
Above: Top: A family poses in front of the green screen at the "Dress Like a Marine Geologist" activity. Volunteer Nick Degnan is in the background. Center: Clint Steele places the family in a marine field setting, visible on the monitor at lower left. Bottom: The family at sea.

Visitor rides a waverunner instrumented for surveying in nearshore waters
Waverunner: Visitor rides a waverunner instrumented for surveying in nearshore waters.

Diane Minasian enjoys the calm before the storm as she awaits the first wave of Open House visitors at the 'Flying Eyeball' tank.
Diane Minasian enjoys the calm before the storm as she awaits the first wave of Open House visitors at the "Flying Eyeball" tank.

Aren Lorenson is ready to help visitors explore CO2 solubility at the 'Adventures in Geochemistry' exhibit
Aren Lorenson is ready to help visitors explore carbon dioxide solubility at the "Adventures in Geochemistry" exhibit.

view of the San Francisco Bay area, created by combining Landsat imagery and digital-elevation data with offshore bathymetry
SF Bay: Visitors to the "San Francisco Bay Area Science Room" saw a 12-ft-by-12-ft print of this view of the San Francisco Bay area, created by Ben Sleeter (Geography Discipline) by combining Landsat imagery and digital-elevation data with offshore bathymetry provided by Florence Wong.

Poster of the floor of west-central San Francisco Bay
Poster of the floor of west-central San Francisco Bay (Open-File Report 01-90, available online.

Brandie McIntyre watches as a visitor assembles a topo-salad-tray model of Monterey Canyon
Brandie McIntyre (right) watches as a visitor assembles a topo-salad-tray model of Monterey Canyon.

Mystery writer and former United States Geological Survey employee Sarah Andrews signs copies of her forensic-geology novels
Mystery writer and former USGS employee Sarah Andrews signs copies of her forensic-geology novels.

The sky was clear, and the feeling was festive as thousands of visitors strolled through the USGS campus in Menlo Park, CA, for the center's seventh triennial Open House, held May 30, May 31, and June 1. An event that was almost canceled months ago as organizers struggled with the implications of "Code Orange" turned out to be an exhilarating experience for USGS employees and their eager Open House visitors.

The first day, May 30, was a preview day for school groups and VIPs. It opened with a brief ceremony that included addresses by USGS Director Chip Groat, Western Regional Director Doug Buffington, and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D, San Jose). A member of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo's (D, Palo Alto) staff presented an award to longtime USGS volunteer Tooky Campione for her many years of leading USGS tours and for forging links between the USGS and Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where she also volunteers.

Additional guests from local governments and governmental agencies were recognized, and all were invited to tour the Open House exhibits. The VIPs plus an estimated 1,400 exuberant schoolchildren and their teachers gave exhibitors a chance to strut their stuff on Friday and fine-tune their presentations for the much larger crowd—estimates range from 10,000 to 15,000—that came to campus on Saturday and Sunday (May 31 and June 1).

Coastal and marine researchers were big contributors to this year's Open House, with some of the most popular exhibits on campus. "Dress Like a Marine Geologist" kept Clint Steele, Carolyn Degnan, Dan Mosier, and their small army of volunteers—Judy Steele, Nick Degnan, Jenny Mosier, Eleanore Ramsey, Mary Jo De Laere, Kat Griffin, Chuck Cegelski, and recently retired Diana Collins—busy all three days, as kids of all ages lined up to don life jackets, hard hats, and other marine field attire. The visitors were videotaped against a green screen background, then digitally placed into a field setting of their choice. View their images online.

In the hallways adjacent to "Dress Like a Marine Geologist," recent retiree Gretchen Luepke Bynum answered questions about rocks, minerals, and fossils on display. Selita Donaville and Bill and Maria Adams directed visitors to exhibits and kept the literature holders full—in some cases searching the campus or the Web for the last copy of a popular handout and photocopying it to provide a fresh supply.

In the "Big Tent" set up in a parking lot, visitors could see how scientists "Explore the Changing Coast" in a multifaceted exhibit presented by Laura and Nate Landerman, Jingping Xu, Guy Gelfenbaum, Marlene Noble, Giles Lesser, Kevin Orzech, Beth Feingold, Lorie Hibbeler, Juliet Kinney, Jon Warrick, Peter Ruggiero, Dave Gonzales, Simon Barber, Charlene Tetlak, and Gary Schneider. Visitors could trigger the acoustic release for the buoy on an instrumented tripod, stir up sand in a tank and see the effects on suspended-sediment measurements, investigate how sediment changes as it moves from the mountains to the sea, and take their photographs on waverunners used for surveying near the shore (a big hit with the kids!).

Across the tent, visitors could winch the "Flying Eyeball" (a.k.a. Underwater Microscope System) down onto a bed of sand at the bottom of a large tank and observe the Flying Eyeball's magnified view of the sand grains on a monitor. This popular exhibit was presented by Hank Chezar, Sarah Chezar, Brian Lockwood, Fred Payne, and Diane Minasian.

Also in the tent was a poster inviting visitors to come to the ground floor of Building 15 to take a "Real-Time 3-D Fly-Through Over the Seafloor of San Francisco Bay." Presenters Jim Gardner and Pete Dartnell report that some adults were bashful but kids did not hesitate to grab the computer controls and maneuver their way through the high-resolution multibeam swath-sonar data that provide a detailed view of the floor of San Francisco Bay.

One floor up in Building 15 was an exhibit by Mary McGann, entitled "Invasion of San Francisco Bay by a Marine Microorganism," that invited visitors to look through a microscope for a closeup view of the invader—a foraminifer called Trochammina hadai.

On the top floor, visitors were offered "Adventures in Geochemistry" by Bob and Terri Rosenbauer, Tom Lorenson, Fran Hostettler, Keith Kvenvolden, Jen Dougherty, and Tamer Koksalan. One activity invited visitors to smell four different jars of oil and learn how the oils' different odors reflect differences in their chemical compositions, differences that can be used to "fingerprint" oils and, in some cases, identify the source of oilspills. In another activity, visitors poured carbonated water into a cup, added a tablespoon of salt, and watched the water bubble as dissolved CO2 came out of solution.

Enthusiastic help from Tom's 8-year-old son, Aren, drew a lot of kids and families to this activity, which showed that CO2 is less soluble in saltwater than in freshwater. Understanding CO2 solubility is critical for scientists studying the possible sequestration of excess manmade CO2 in deep saline aquifers (see related article in May 2002 Sound Waves).

Building 3 was the site of several coastal and marine exhibits. A dramatic view of the San Francisco Bay region—created by Ben Sleeter (Geography Discipline) by combining Landsat imagery and digital-elevation data with offshore bathymetry provided by Florence Wong—greeted visitors to the "San Francisco Bay Area Science Room." There they could visit numerous exhibits, including "Fossils of the San Francisco Bay Area," assembled by Carol Reiss, Florence Wong, and others, and "What's Below the Waters of San Francisco Bay?" presented by John Chin, Kevin Orzech, and Don Woodrow.

John, Kevin, and Don educated a steady stream of visitors and offered them a full-color poster of the floor of west-central San Francisco Bay (Open-File Report 01-90) and a pair of 3D glasses for viewing a three-dimensional image on the back of the poster.

Across the hall in the "3D Theater," Eric Geist helped visitors view a "Virtual Tsunami!" that they picked from a casebook with facts about five historical tsunamis. During a computer simulation of the tsunami wave's development—from its generation by an earthquake through its impact on the shore—visitors could "fly through" the imagery, viewing the moving wave from above, below, or virtually any angle.

The 3D theme continued across campus in Building 5, where visitors wearing red-blue glasses strolled through the "3D Geology Tours Image Gallery" and stopped by a table in the center of the room to play with "Topo Salad Trays: 3D Models of Angel Island and Monterey Canyon," presented by Helen Gibbons, Jon Childs, Kristen Lee, Brandie McIntyre, Chris Gutmacher, Carole Woodrow, Terry Bruns, and Florence Wong. Visitors love these models—made of clear-plastic stacking trays with a contour line drawn on each tray—which are low-tech (you don't even need the 3D glasses!) and visually striking.

Also in Building 5, Susie Cochran-Marquez, Chad Marquez, Ann Gibbs, Becky Stamski, Josh Logan, and Eric Thompson showed visitors how USGS scientists "Explore Hawai'i's Coral Reefs." People made a beeline for the exhibit's bright-orange drifter, asking "What's the flying saucer?" Its flattened, saucerlike shape exposes very little surface area to the wind, allowing the drifter to be pushed instead by currents flowing against its subsurface sails—plastic fins that can be mounted on the bottom of the drifter to measure surface currents or on a line attached to the drifter to measure currents below the surface. A GPS unit inside the saucer continually records the drifter's location. The exhibit included a slide show explaining how USGS scientists are using current drifters and other technologies to map and monitor coral reefs in Hawai'i.

Pleasant weather made visitors happy to spend some time outdoors and enjoy musical performances by "Duckweed," an old-time band that includes current and former Coastal and Marine Geology team members Gretchen Luepke Bynum, Guy Cochrane, Alan Cooper, Helen Gibbons, Stephanie Ross, Lauren Herzog Schwartz, and Florence Wong, and "Shig and Buzz," an instrumental surf and rock band.

Near the musical venue and elsewhere on campus were food and souvenir booths run by the nonprofit, oncampus daycare center, GeoKids, and staffed by volunteers that included Coastal and Marine Geology team members Jamie Conrad, Pat Hart, Laura Torresan, Jennifer Mendonça, Angela Gallamore, and Angela's fiancé Jonathan Sasse. A special attraction at one of the booths on Saturday was forensic-geology mystery novelist Sarah Andrews, who spent several hours speaking with visitors and signing books, including her latest, Killer Dust, based on research by USGS scientist Gene Shinn (St. Petersburg, FL).

The GeoKids booths contributed to the festive atmosphere and provided much-needed refreshment as the weekend warmed up. Nearly an hour after the Open House had officially ended, GeoKids volunteers were still selling ice cream to visitors reluctant to leave the scene of so much fun and to hot, tired, and happy exhibitors.

To see photographs of the recent USGS Open House in Menlo Park, a list of exhibits, and related links, please visit .


Related Sound Waves Stories
Carbon Dioxide Sequestration in Saline Aquifers
May 2002

Related Web Sites
Menlo Park Open House 2003
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
"Dress Like a Marine Geologist" Photos
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Under San Francisco Bay—A New View of the Floor of West-Central San Francisco Bay: Open-File Report 01-90
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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California Sea Otters

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Updated April 15, 2014 @ 01:53 PM (THF)