UCAR & NCAR - Our History

The first meeting of UCAR’s 14 university members. Click to see photo timeline.

Scientists on the faculty of 14 U.S. universities created the nonprofit University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in the late 1950s. These visionaries recognized the need for community observational and computational facilities and a world-class research staff, which together would allow the community to carry out complex, long-term scientific programs beyond the reach of individual universities.

In partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF), they established the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) as a federally funded research and development center.

Since its inception NCAR has been managed by UCAR, on behalf of NSF, to address pressing scientific and societal needs involving the atmosphere and its interactions with the oceans, land, and Sun—what is now called Earth system science.

For over 50 years, UCAR’s stewardship has enabled NCAR to

  • provide advanced facilities to universities,
  • make transformative contributions to understanding weather and climate,
  • lead the application of basic knowledge for the benefit of society,
  • develop some of the world’s leading scientists, and
  • engage students of all ages in science, engineering, and mathematics.

UCAR’s role in supporting and complementing the work of academia has grown to include new research, service, and education activities through its UCAR Community Programs (UCP). (Until May 2009, UCP was known as the UCAR Office of Programs).Balloon launch, 1982

UCAR now comprises more than 100 member institutions in North America granting degrees in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences.

Collectively, UCAR members strengthen and promote professional interactions, collaborations, and collegiality in the broader national and international community. This partnership is unique in science and engineering and has produced some of the best research and technology in the world for over half a century.

50th Anniversary - 2010

We marked the 50th anniversaries of UCAR and NCAR with a number of events and publications throughout 2009–2010. An archive of those events includes video and a photo timeline.

Mesa Lab

The Mesa Laboratory

The Mesa Laboratory, NCAR's first building and current headquarters, is considered a modern architectural masterpiece. The Mesa Lab was designed by architect I. M. Pei in close consultation with founding UCAR president and NCAR director Walter Orr Roberts. Construction funds came from NCAR's sponsor, the National Science Foundation.

 A tourist attraction in its own right, the Mesa Lab is also home to NCAR's Visitor Center, which offers free weather, climate, and supecomputing exhibits with guided or self-guided tours 363 days a year.

Online exhibit: Mesa Lab design and construction (NCAR Archives)

Public and school tours (Visit NCAR - Public Visitor Program)

The NCAR Archives

Part of the NCAR Library, NCAR's Archives is charged with preserving, maintaining, and making accessible collections of documents and records that capture important events related to UCAR/NCAR history. The Archives collects materials that document our mission and work in the following areas:Scientist preparing for sailplane flight

  • Scientific research
  • Support functions that facilitate research
  • Supercomputing
  • Effects of weather and climate on society
  • Contributions to the field of science
  • Education and training services
  • Community building
  • Using science for the betterment of humankind and society
  • Administrative records that document the above activities
  • The personal and professional papers of some scientists,
    engineers, administrators, and program staff

Learn More

Photo Galleries

NCAR Directors

UCAR Presidents

50th Anniversary History Timeline (2010)

PublicationsCover of the 50th anniversary report of UCAR and NCAR

UCAR at 50 - Highlights 2010 (1960–2010)

UCAR at 40 - Highlights 2000 (1985–2000)

A Staff Notes Monthly family album (historic photos collected for our 40th anniversary)

UCAR at 25 (1960–1985)

It Happened Here (Staff Notes series)

The Archaeologist of HAO (Staff Notes)

Across UCAR & NCAR

About NCAR (click on "NCAR History")

History of UCAR Community Programs

History of the High Altitude Observatory

History of Supercomputing at NCAR