Kolkata’s Science on a Sphere facility uses digital projection and smart audio systems to explain changes in the earth’s topography in a captivating manner
n its 19th anniversary, Kolkata’s Science City introduced a state-of the-art facility, titled ‘Science on a Sphere’ (SoS), which was inaugurated by Keshari Nath Tripathi, Governor of West Bengal. The suspended globe, which measures 6-feet in diameter, projects images of the earth through animated and dynamic images of its landmass, oceans, oceanic currents, temperature zones, clouds, snow covered areas, deserts, rivers, environmental processes, etc. “I am delighted to learn that Kolkata’s Science City, which is the largest Science Centre under the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM), has set up this SoS. This is the first of its kind facility in eastern India. Here, the audience can experience the dynamic earth in front of their eyes and the magic of digital simulations has shrunk it to a size that fits our scale of visualization” said the governor.
A specially designed SoS folder was unveiled by the governor in the presence of A S Manekar, director general of NCSM and E Islam, director of Birla Industrial and Technological Museum and various and students. “It is our endeavour at NCSM to engage the audience into understanding complex scientific and technological issues in a simplified manner,” Manekar said.
Around 250 underprivileged and differently-abled students from Manovikas Kendra participated in various contests during the launch, which was followed by a cultural program.
CUSTOMISED TO FIT THE BILL
The SoS is a room-sized spherical projection system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a 1.80 meter diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe. This is an effective educational tool to help illustrate the earth’s dynamic processes and associated science to people of all ages.
Animated images of the earth’s land, oceans and atmosphere can be simulated on the sphere to explain what are otherwise complex methods, in a way that is simultaneously intuitive and captivating. This system, designed by system integrator Globocess AG, is expected to provide a platform for better understanding of complex environmental processes.
The digital projection system comprised a Dell 5810 workstation with GeForce GTX series graphic card from NVIDIA with a Ubuntu OS installed on it. Four DLP projectors with respective resolution 1920×1080 and 4000 ANSI lumen were connected to the workstation through a switcher and video extender.
The audio system comprised a mixer with four active speakers. This supported Kiosk Software’s SOS 5.0 version, an upgraded version provided by Globocess AG of the software originally developed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA) which was installed in the workstation. The software is similar to a player with features to control animation using script.
GLEANING DATASETS, BIT BY BIT
Majority of SoS’ assets are called datasets. Originally conceived as a video system for showing space-based collections of earth data, SoS has grown in its utility. Most of its data that traditionally appears on the SoS screens concerns the earth, either from near-real-time data acquisition systems or from processed remote sensing platforms.
There are currently over 500 datasets that can be shown on the sphere, including real-time infrared satellite images, real-time earthquakes, an ocean acidification model, earth during night, air and satellite traffic around the space of earth, climatic and temperature variations, concentration of chlorophyll content, cloud movements and several others. NOOA played a pivotal role in supporting the use of spherical display systems such as SoS in public exhibits as part of a focused effort to increase environmental literacy.
An official from Kolkata Science City explained that the datasets were downloaded using command into the file system of the system software over internet. This data is updated almost daily with the help of command line code on a Linux terminal.
AD Choudhury, director of Kolkata Science City said, “It is a unique educative tool that simplifies the public’s understanding of our various environmental processes. One can instantly monitor the areas where earthquakes occurred during the last few hours, how the tsunami waves travel to various coastal areas, the artificial illumination pattern, air traffic in different zones and different times, etc.”
The new facility can accommodate approximately 70 visitors at a time in a specially designed climatically controlled room. Its unique display is expected to enthral family groups and school students as well as facilitate their understanding of the complex processes that exist.