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From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"Whether Weather is Climate"

Written by Paul Sutter on Tuesday, 05 July 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

This great question popped up on my whiteboard a few weeks ago: what's the difference between weather and climate? These two words are often jumbled together, or tossed into places they don't belong, so it's not surprising there's some confusion.

Here's a short version for the impatient: weather is short, climate is long.

Here's a long metaphor for the patient: weather is like watching your day-to-day activities. What time did you leave for work? What did you eat for lunch? You picked those shoes? Specifics, not trends.

Climate is watching your habits every day for thirty years, and using statistics to draw broad conclusions. You leave for work within the same 15-minute window. You generally like sandwiches. You have poor taste in footwear. Trends, rather than specifics.

What's fascinating about weather systems is how frenetically chaotic they are: a tiny change in an unexpected corner can build up to alter the course of an entire storm. This is the so-called "butterfly effect" and makes weather prediction so dang difficult. Sure, we know where a thunderstorm is today, but a billion zillion factors can influence its future movement, so it's hard to say where it's going to be tomorrow.

But despite that complexity it's also fantastically regular. Summers are miserably hot. Winters are unbearably cold. The weather may be unpredictable a few days into the future, but the climate moves (relatively) slowly, making predictions (relatively) easier.

Predicting both the weather and climate is a humongous job, requiring heaps of computing power crunching the numbers day-in and day-out, but that's a story for another memo...

"Science Now...LIVE!"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 27 June 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"Science is for Sharing." That's my personal motto, and that's why I'm so lucky to work in a place like COSI. The place and the people are literally dedicated to doing just that, and to be a part of that experience is a pretty dang good feeling.

In the spirit of sharing science and helping to create a more science-literate society, the Theaters team has helped me create Science Now Live, a new planetarium show. It's hosted by me but directed by the audience - no two shows are exactly alike, and going in I have no clue what I'm about it say...and it's super-fun.

We all see the science headlines race past, full of jargon, misquotes, bad statistics, and incomprehensibly obscure references. Science is a messy business - full of blind alleys, unknown factors, and competing theories - and I don't fault journalists when they have trouble trying to distill a complex topic into a few soundbites and some explanatory glue.

People everywhere get curious about science, and usually more than a few questions pop up when a news story comes out. Science Now Live provides an outlet to satisfy that curiosity, and to finally get some relief on those cosmic puzzlers that have been nagging us for so long. Thanks again to all the team members who helped me put it together...I'm looking forward to every single show!

"What is a Chief Scientist?"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 20 June 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

A few months ago the COSI Executive Leadership Team launched this wacky idea: what if a science museum had a Chief Scientist? We all had a somewhat vague sense of what that kind of job would mean, but we also understood that what we knew going in would be different than what we would know once it actually started.

I still don't know what a generic Chief Scientist would do at a generic science museum, but I know precisely what this specific Chief Scientist does at this specific science museum:

1) Talk about science. A lot. As you may have guessed, give me the chance to talk about some little bit of science, and you best pack a snack because you're going to stay awhile. I love all this science stuff, and getting to talk about it to my colleagues, friends, audiences in the theaters, random visitors in the museum, and folks around town is pretty much my dream job.

Need someone to talk about science? A lot? Send me an email.

2) Help you talk about science. A lot. Let's face it, I can't be everywhere at once, and I'm contractually limited to 20 hours per week. And you should admit it: if you're reading this while wearing a certain blue polo shirt, you're probably also really good at talking about science. I love helping make you look better by checking over a script or a presentation, or writing something new for you.

Need help talking about science? A lot? Send me an email.

3) Get my friends at OSU to talk about science. A lot. I spend the other 20 hours of my week doing stuff at OSU, and you may not have noticed, but that place is absolutely infested with scientists. A good fraction of them would love to get the chance to talk about their work in front of new audiences.

Need someone new to talk about science? A lot? Send me an email.

While a more descriptive title for my position would've been "Science Talker", I think I'll stick with "Chief Scientist". But now we all know what that means.

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