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News Release 09-043

Arctic and Antarctic-themed Activities to Bring a Breath of Polar Air to Baltimore

In conjunction with landmark Antarctic Treaty meeting, art exhibit, interactive events, unique film screening and multimedia presentations with polar researchers at the Maryland Science Center

Photo of the Maryland Science Center at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The Maryland Science Center at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

March 16, 2009

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The Maryland Science Center in Baltimore will be the focal point of a range of public events April 4 and 5 that highlight federally funded Arctic and Antarctic research programs. The public events are being held in conjunction with a meeting on the international treaty governing international cooperation and scientific research in Antarctica.

The Science Center events will include an unprecedented exhibit of collected art, film, poetry and prose created by world-class artists to interpret the nation's Antarctic heritage, the public unveiling of a unique film that shows the global importance of the world's Polar Regions to multimedia and hands-on demonstrations of polar science and cultures. The science center events are scheduled in conjunction with a two-week-long Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM), attended by delegates from more than 40 countries.

The exhibit and many of the related events are  funded jointly by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Office of Polar Programs (OPP) and its Education and Human Resources Directorate's Informal Science Education (ISE) program. NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic program, which coordinates all U.S. research on the southernmost continent. NSF's director also chairs the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC).

The programs are designed to give the public, including young children, a glimpse into both the lives of those who make their homes in the Polar Regions and those who conduct cutting-edge science there. They also focus attention on the importance of U.S. government-supported polar research-in fields as diverse as climate sciences, oceanography, and astrophysics-in a global context.

The Maryland Science Center at Baltimore's Inner Harbor was named one of the nation's ten best science centers for families" by Parent's Magazine in 2008. It is visited by 500,000 people annually.

The weekend also will highlight the uniqueness and importance of the Antarctic Treaty.

The Treaty-which was signed in the U.S. 50 years ago-begins with the words "recognizing that it is in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes ..." It uniquely guarantees freedom of scientific investigation on the southernmost continent. Treaty protocols also prohibit such activities as oil and gas and mineral exploration. The Treaty was also the first multilateral arms-control agreement, banning nuclear explosions and military activity.

This Treaty meeting will also be unusual because it will be attended by senior diplomats and scientists from the Arctic Council nations, many of which are also parties to the Antarctic Treaty. Significantly, the meeting will convene a century to the day after Maryland-born Arctic explorer Matthew Henson, an African-American, became the first person to reach the North Pole.

The Baltimore meeting also occurs at the official close of the International Polar Year (IPY), which concentrated deployment into the polar regions by scientists from more than 60 countries, NSF was the lead U.S. agency for IPY, in which many federal agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) participated.

The U.S. Department of State is organizing the Baltimore meeting, the 32nd since the Treaty was signed, but only the first in the United States since the 1970's. The working meeting, which is being held at the Baltimore Convention Center, is closed to the public.

Other federal agencies including NSF, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, NASA and NOAA planned and executed the public-outreach events.

The activites are open to the public and are free of charge with paid admission to the Maryland Science Center. The weekend events include:

  1. Interactive demonstrations and displays at the science center:

    The science center staff will offer hands-on demonstrations of polar clothing to show visitors what it takes to work safely in the harsh conditions of the world's coldest, highest and driest continent. A separate display will show visitors how a typical Antarctic field camp is set up. A large floor mural using the latest space-based satellite imagery of Antarctica will allow visitors to get to the know the continent's geography and will be complimented by high-resolution, ground-level panoramic images of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, the only ice-free region of the Antarctic. Two IMAX films, Antarctica and Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure, will also be screened.

  2. An exhibit of works by participants in NSF's Antarctic Artists and Writers program:

    NSF annually invites artists to apply for the opportunity to visits the southernmost continent to gather information or to actually work in the field to interpret the Antarctic experience and to celebrate the nation's Antarctic heritage for the general public. Internationally acclaimed director Werner Herzog is among recent program participants. His Antarctic documentary "Encounters at the End of the World," was nominated for a 2009 Academy Award. Other previous participants include Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the science fiction work "Antarctica" and the Mars trilogy, installation artist Lita Albuquerque, and the late nature photographer Galen Rowell.

    More than 40 world-class photographers, sculptors, and painters in various media, filmmakers, writers, poets, historians and others, who are selected for the opportunity through a merit-review system have participated in the program. Only a small fraction of applicants are selected to visit Antarctica.

    Their work continues a unbroken tradition of artists' involvement in Antarctic science that stretches back to the so-called "Heroic Age" of exploration at the turn of the 20th century. The early explorers included photographers and artists on their teams and themselves often wrote lucid and timeless accounts of their struggles and discoveries on the frozen continent.

    This will be the first such exhibit ever mounted in one single venue in the history of the Artists and Writers program.

  3. A series of presentations by Polar-Palooza, a jointly NSF- and NASA-funded project, that brings Polar researchers to science museums around the country, often to institutions where young people never would otherwise meet a polar scientist:

    Since the Fall of 2007. Polar-Palooza--jointly supported by both NSF and NASA--has taken its "Stories from a Changing Planet" presentation on tour to more than 25 science centers and museums from Alaska to Louisiana, featuring a diverse cast of polar researchers, high-definition video shot on location in the Arctic and Antarctic, and authentic artifacts such as ancient ice cores and NSF's special cold weather gear. Presentations include opportunities for personal interaction between the public and polar researchers, with questions about both polar research and climate change, as well as hands-on experiences.

    At the Maryland Science Center Polar-Palooza will present "Stories from a Changing Planet" for the public on Saturday and Sunday April 4 and 5 at 2:45, with an additional show Saturday evening. On hand--seal and penguin expert Mike Castellini, of the University of Alaksa Fairbanks, geologist and Antarctic explorer, Kathy Licht, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis; Alaska Native Sean Topkok, Alaskan Native Knowledge Network; and Bob Bindschadler, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    A workshop for K-12 educators will run Saturday morning, and a special session for an invited student audience on Monday morning.

  4. NSF-funded Polar Weekend will offer hands-on activities for children and their parents and the chance to meet polar researchers face-to-face:

    The Polar Weekend, organized by Stephanie Pfirman, a researcher at Columbia University's Barnard College, has been staged successfully at New York's American Museum of Natural History three times, most recently in January 2009.

    The main goal of this project is to enhance public understanding of science through a focus on the polar regions. This program design deliberately allows and encourages people to learn in several different ways: listening and viewing as well as interaction with scientists through one-on-one question and answer, demonstrations and personal participation.

    The Baltimore version will include contributions by local institutions, including the Baltimore Zoo and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center as well as a collection of Siberian children's paintings documenting local climate change, indigenous singers from Norway and a hands-on demonstration that allows children to drill an ice core.

  5. The premier of a new NASA-developed multimedia presentation, called "Frozen," for NOAA's Science on a Sphere® multimedia display system:

    Science on a Sphere® is a room-sized, global display that uses computers and video projectors to show planetary scale environmental data on a six-foot diameter sphere, like a giant animated globe. Researchers at NOAA developed Science on a Sphere as an educational tool to help illustrate Earth system science to people of all ages.

    As part of the weekend events, NASA will unveil a new movie called "Frozen" that explores the Earth's coldest regions from a truly global perspective. "Frozen" is a spherical movie, designed specifically for Science on a Sphere®, and showcases global ice and snow cover in ways that simply have not been displayed before.  "Frozen" is only the second major film of its kind. It uses moviemaking processes and techniques developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    Turning in space, images on the screen become a portal onto a virtual planet, complete with churning, swirling depictions of huge natural forces moving below. "Frozen" showcases the global cryosphere, those places on Earth where temperatures don't generally rise above water's freezing point.

    The Maryland Science Center is one of fewer than 30 venues around the world with access to the Science on a Sphere® technology.


Media Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7761, email:
Todd M. Scott, Himmelrich PR / Maryland Science Center, (410) 528.5400, email:
Sarah DeWitt, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, (301) 286-0535, email:
Jana Goldman, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (301) 734-1123, email:
Billie Gross, U.S. Department of State, (202) 647-6664, email:

Principal Investigators
James O'Leary, Maryland Science Center, (410) 545-5975, email:
Brenda Lewis, Maryland Science Center, email:
Michael Starobin, producer and director, "Frozen", (301) 286-4509, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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