Never Too Busy for Science Education

Measuring a raindrop.

Greg McFarquhar showed kids how to measure raindrops by spraying water from a bottle into a pan of flour and spooning out the solid drops.

DOE scientist takes timeout to talk about clouds and climate with kids


Dr. Greg McFarquhar has kids of his own, so he has a vested interest in science education. Taking time out from his duties as one of the lead scientists involved in a month-long Arctic aerosol field campaign based out of Fairbanks, Alaska, Greg participated in an International Polar Year Pole-to-Pole video conference and web chat at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF) on April 8. This videoconference was part of the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program, which brings together students, teachers, and scientists to talk about climate change.

Greg and faculty from the University were joined by area middle and high school students, as well as students from the Alaskan native school of Innoko River. The group at UAF connected via video-con with scientists from National Center for Atmospheric Research, the national snow institute center at Colorado State University-Boulder, and teachers from Ushuaia (Argentina) and the Argentine GLOBE school, Escuela Provincial No. 38, in Esperanza, Antarctica.

Greg talked about why we need to understand clouds as part of climate change puzzle, and along with the other experts, answered student questions about changing weather and explaining the difference between weather and climate. They also talked about projects to observe climate change in their life, such as recording temperature, snowfall and permafrost levels to compare against historical records. Many of the students seemed concerned about how their snowboarding and skiing season might be impacted by climate change. However, Greg noted that near the end of the conference, one of the native Alaskan teenagers commented that climate change was affecting his entire way of life.

The GLOBE Program began on Earth Day in 1995, with the goal of encouraging students to become involved in climate change research locally and to collaborate with others globally. The Esperanza Base Station in Antarctica is heavily involved in IPY science and education activities.

A few days later, on April 12 -- an off-day for just about everybody else involved in the campaign -- Greg attended a “Science Potpourri” held on the campus of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. This annual science fair for the general public featured hands-on experiments and demonstrations of various earth sciences.

Greg, assisted by campaign logistics specialist Debbie Ronfeld, conducted two experiments throughout the day – “measuring a raindrop” and “cloud in a cup” – which intrigued both kids and adults. He explained the history of droplet measurement techniques from yesterday versus today’s advanced probes and sensors, and explained how kids could conduct similar experiments at home.

Meanwhile, Lynne Roeder, the program’s public information officer, talked with parents and teachers about the education resources available at They were enthusiastic to see the “Climate Change: Science and Traditional Knowledge” DVD, as well as newsletters and lesson plans for grades K-12. Several hundred kids and adults visited throughout the day.

Greg, Debbie and Lynne were part of an 80-member team participating in the Indirect and Semi-Direct Aerosol Campaign. For more information, see the ISDAC website at