The Nineteen Sixties

Construction of a building against foothills background

Built in the mid-1960s, NCAR’s Mesa Laboratory was designed by architect I.M. Pei to harmonize with its mountainous backdrop.

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photo of a man

Philip Thompson becomes NCAR’s associate director, bringing with him a broad range of scientific and management expertise. Thompson attracts many outstanding researchers to join or visit NCAR.


Photo of people sitting in a meeting

NCAR launches a lecture and seminar
series for recent postgraduates. The series soon evolves into the Advanced Study Program, which brings postdoctoral researchers to NCAR for one to two years.


Photo of the nose of a small airplane

NCAR’s Research Aviation Facility opens, at a regional airport 11 miles southeast of Boulder, with a leased Beech Queen Air 80. Two more Queen Airs are leased in 1966, with other aircraft to follow.


photo of man dressed in parka and hat looking through microscope

To help focus institutional energy, NCAR creates two new departments, one centered on atmospheric dynamics and the other on air chemistry and microphysics. A “cold room” is built for studying ice and snow behavior.


Photo of a building

The compact Fleischmann Building opens on the mesa site. It houses the UCAR president’s office (still located there) and the Advanced Study Program, which later moves to the Mesa Lab.

NCAR and UCAR sprang into existence from a burst of creativity, enthusiasm, and optimism. After being hampered for years by a lack of resources and coordination, university faculty engaged in weather and climate research banded together in the late 1950s. With support from the National Science Foundation that continues today, the new consortium—incorporated as UCAR in 1959 with 14 institutions as founding members—set out to build a new kind of center that would serve the discipline and the nation as a whole.  It was an innovative concept well matched to the times. The Cold War had fueled interest in science. University enrollments were soaring. Computer models were set to transform day-to-day forecasting, and the first U.S. weather satellite took to the skies in early 1960. By the end of that year, NCAR was a reality, with a home in Boulder, Colorado, and a leader in place. As the first UCAR president and NCAR director, Walter Orr Roberts steered the consortium and the center through a series of temporary buildings, uncertain budgets, and delicate politics, including the quest to support university research while building a vital core of staff scientists.  The spectacular Mesa Laboratory, which opened in 1967, gave NCAR an instantly iconic home and bolstered the international profile of the young—but already influential—center.


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A center is born >

Eyes on the corona >

Atmosphere in a box: NCAR's first GCM >

Borne on a balloon >