The public side of the NWSC

Visitor center makes science of supercomputing accessible to all

October 10, 2012 | Visitors will get more than one window into the world of high-performance computing at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center. In just a few days, the NWSC’s visitor center will open its doors to the public.

Cassie Cowsert looks over the Young Scientist Station
Cassie Cowsert—a subcontractor with Gizmojo, the company that built the NWSC exhibits—checks out the Young Scientist Station. (©UCAR. Photos by Carlye Calvin.)

The new center's main draw—its enormous Yellowstone supercomputer—will be visible through a partially glassed-in wall. But visitors will also get a glimpse into the science and technology related to the NWSC’s work through explanatory panels and touchscreen kiosks.

“The visitor center is really for all members of the community,” says Marijke Unger (CISL). She’s spent much of the last few months overseeing its planning and installation. Marijke and colleagues kept in mind that the NWSC could get visitors ranging from seasoned computational scientists to first graders. “We’re setting it up to be user-friendly for school groups, with an emphasis on self-guided learning and exploration,” she says.

Built by Cheyenne-based Gizmojo, the visitor center includes five major structures, each with multimedia components:

  • A mini-theater near the front includes an introductory video, details on NWSC partners, and other general information.

  • Two stations—each two-sided—cover Science and Society, Extreme Weather, Climate Science, and Forces and Resources in the West (primarily featuring University of Wyoming research on energy, water, wildfires, and wind).

  • A station on computational science, located near the windows overlooking the computing room, spotlights achievements and challenges in computing and the role of computational science in everyday life.

  • A Young Scientist Station includes touchscreen content designed for kids, plus a miniature tornado model similar to the larger one at the Mesa Lab.


View of several exhibit stations scattered throughout NWSC lobby
Five stations scattered throughout the NWSC’s lobby explore the many facets of supercomputing and related science.

Among the touchscreen highlights are a two-minute animation that explains numerical models with the help of a fictional “Dr. Tornado” and her friends (plus a flying cow, of course). There are also clips of NCAR and UW scientists explaining how Yellowstone works and how supercomputing at NWSC will shed light on many aspects of the Earth system.

Conveying the prowess of Yellowstone isn’t easy, but Marijke believes that one hands-on exhibit may go a long way in helping young visitors grasp the machine’s impressive speed. “It’ll measure how quickly you can swipe your hand across a sensor and then tell you how many calculations the supercomputer can do in that amount of time.”

Can't make the trip? The new NWSC website, launched this week, includes lots of information about the center and the Yellowstone system, plus many of the videos described above.

Grand opening schedule

  • Monday, October 15: Members of the UCAR Board of Trustees join NSF director Subra Suresh and other guests at the official NWSC ribbon cutting, followed by a first look at the new exhibits and tour the facility.
  • Tuesday morning, October 16: UCAR member representatives will take part in guided tours.
  • Tuesday (noon to 4:00 p.m.) and Wednesday (9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.): A one-time set of behind-the scenes guided tours for the public. The last tour departs at 3:30 p.m. on both days.
  • Starting on Thursday, October 18, the visitor center will be open for self-guided tours from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. weekdays. Large groups should contact Jenny Brennan (307-996-4305) to make a reservation.