Scale Models for Museums – Ice Core

The great thing about being a model maker is that you never know what challenges the next project will bring. I live in Boulder CO, the location of NCAR, UCAR, NOAA, NIST and many other federal letters. The National Center for Atmospheric Research has offices in one the most distinguished (architect I. M. Pei) buildings in my town. Overlooking Boulder, sitting on a mesa against a backdrop of the dramatic mountains NCAR is a serious research facility dealing with the worlds climate. The also house a newly revised visitors center with many interactive and informational displays. We were commissioned by NCAR to construct a model of an ice core to be illuminated and placed in this visitors center.

ICE CORE: These are cylinders of ice mined in various locations from Greenland to the Arctic. The deeper the core sample the farther back in time the ice was formed. The bubbles in the ice still contain the atmospheric elements that were present during that ancient time to the core becomes a record of how our atmosphere formed and has evolved over the millennia.

In learning about the ice cores we visited the Denver Federal Center were many cores are brought for study. This is a lab that is kept at – 27 degrees Fahrenheit. The scientist work all day wearing protective clothing to keep from freezing. I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot about ice cores and how they look.

Building the models. We ended up building two identical full sized cores that matched a section of an actual ice core for scientific accuracy. Using clear acrylic tubes I poured clear resin in over 120 layers to match the image. I used experimented enough to create a chart showing how much stirring, how much resting and how much gel time was needed to match all the different bubble densities. A relatively clear layer along with a relatively cloudy layer of bubbles represents one year of ice build up. It took several weeks of pouring and curing the resin to get the core models built. One of them is now on display in the visitors center and has become a popular draw for tourists. The second one is used in the classroom and in scientific discussions about the cores themselves.

Lake Tahoe Tourism Model

This model of Lake Tahoe was commissioned by the Lake Tahoe tourism board. This is a self-contained, interactive model. Dozens of LED’s are set into the surface of the topo to represent every golf course, casino, hotel, and amusement area.

The front panel of the stand opens up and two touch screen computers can be accessed. Information on each site is displayed on the computer screens while the LED’s show the site’s location. Out of scale icons are on the model to represent the golf, hotel or museum. The whole model can be crated up and shipped to any locale.

Magnet Icon Models

This display features several magnet models. We built this for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) here in Colorado. This display in the NCAR showroom features a tabletop computer that reads the marking tags under each model. The program then displays the magnetic fields related to that object.

The program is sophisticated in that it not only represents the magnetic fields, it also shows how they interact with each other. Many adults and children visit NCAR and enjoy this interactive experience.

Yellowstone Museum Model

Very often I am asked to build something, the purpose of which is a mystery to me. Model making is sometimes about recreating shapes and size to a specific plan without any further explanation. These models fall into that category.

We were asked to recreate these shapes by Ball Aerospace so I assume they represent items that are shot into space. It looks like they hold electronics and possibly lenses but I am not sure. I don’t ask and they don’t tell and as long as they are happy with the models I am happy to keep supplying them.

Light Separator Model

Now, this was a fun model to build. The superstructure was soldered brass to support the visible components. The model body had to rotate and the mirror had to pivot. The point of this display was to show the process of taking white light and separating it into its component colors.

Colored acrylic rods are used to show the lights path off of the reflector and through various mirrors and colored lenses. Each color then goes through it’s individual “reader” and the information gathered is sent back to earth. This is a classroom and exhibit model to show this process. I am a big fan of hands-on education.

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