New laboratory dedicated to pioneering meteorologist to open June 3
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June 1, 2005 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
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New laboratory dedicated to pioneering meteorologist to open June 3
Dave Fultz Memorial Laboratory will simulate swirling fluids of oceans, atmosphere


This image shows a close-up of the "weather patterns" forming in Earth's atmosphere in the Dave Fultz Laboratory. The "weather patterns" are forming in a large tank of water, which slowly spins in simulation of the Earth's rotation. The bucket of ice at the center represents the Earth's polar region, which is cooling the air, which, like water, is a fluid. Green and red dye are introduced into the water so that observers may see the formation of swirling vortices that cause Earth's weather.

Noboru Nakamura, Associate Professor in Geophysical Sciences, in the Dave Fultz Laboratory at the University of Chicago. The computer screen shows an image looking down on a weather simulation captured by a camera mounted on the ceiling. Colored dyes have been released into a slowly spinning tank of water to reveal the swirling vortices that form much like they do in Earth's atmosphere. Although water is used instead of air to simulate the atmosphere, both water and air are fluids that behave in similar ways. A photograph of Dave Fultz is on the wall. Fultz became famous in the 1950s and 1960s for his "dishpan experiments," which are reproduced for students in the laboratory.

Students at the University of Chicago will soon be able to observe the complex fluid motion of the atmosphere and ocean in a new laboratory that will echo the innovative experiments devised by meteorologist Dave Fultz more than 50 years ago. The Dave Fultz Fluid Dynamics Teaching Laboratory will be officially opened in his honor on Friday, June 3.

“His experiments were really legendary,” said Noboru Nakamura, Associate Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago. “I read books about atmospheric sciences when I was a high school kid in Japan. I came across a description of Dave Fultz’s experiments, and I was fascinated.”

Fultz was a Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago who died in 2002. During his career he became famous for his “dishpan experiments,” which provided surprisingly accurate simulations of the Earth’s atmosphere.

In these experiments, a rotating dishpan of water simulated the large-scale movements of air that create weather. The spinning pan simulated the Earth’s rotation. Heated at its edge and cooling at its center, the pan simulated the temperatures of the Earth’s equator and Arctic region. A video camera filmed the meandering patterns of a “jetstream” created by dyes injected into the water.

“When I was a freshman in college, I tried to mimic what he had done using a record player and cookie cans and so forth. I still use that sort of thing for classroom demonstrations,” Nakamura said. But two years ago, Nakamura began thinking about developing a larger, more permanent version of the demonstration that he and his colleagues could use in their teaching.

“It’s always a challenge if I just use equations on the blackboard to explain things,” he said. “This is a great teaching tool. Students just watch it and wow. Seeing is believing.”

Including seed money provided by the Fultz family, Nakamura was able to raise $60,000 to get the laboratory started. Chipping in with the additional funds were the University of Chicago Women’s Board, the Provost’s Program of Academic Techology Innovation, the Physical Sciences Division, and the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Nakamura aspires to bring in still more equipment, but already it is only one of a handful of teaching laboratories like it in the nation.

The centerpiece of the Fultz laboratory is a 100-gallon tank mounted on a motor-driven turntable to simulate the Earth’s rotation. A video camera mounted on the ceiling above the tank rotates at the same rate as the tank so that motion of the fluids is more readily apparent. The video can be projected onto a large plasma screen mounted onto a nearby wall.

Since Fultz’s day, computer simulations have come to play a larger role in leading-edge meteorological research. Even so, Nakamura said, the laboratory will have a role in research as well as teaching. “We really can’t simulate every small detail of the atmosphere using computer models,” he said. “It’s not really known how small-scale phenomena interact with larger-scale flow and vice versa, but that sort of thing can be relatively easily simulated in an idealized experimental setup like this.”

The new Fultz Lab will occupy 600-square feet on the fourth floor of the Hinds Laboratory building. His children remember visiting his original laboratory in the basement of Rosenwald Hall on the University’s main quadrangle, and later when it was moved to the sub-basement of the Hinds Lab.

“It used to puzzle me that my friends’ fathers didn’t spend their days with great turning globes and droplets of dye that made mesmerizing patterns,” said Fultz’s daughter Martha Monick, of Iowa City, Iowa. “It was only later that I realized that this was a special place where special things were happening and that it all mattered beyond the limits of a child’s understanding.”

Daughter Kate Fultz Hollis, of Los Angeles, remembers drawing a picture when she was 4 or 5 years old depicting the wires and tubes of her father’s lab as crayon scribbles. “The picture was displayed outside the lab, and most people would think that it was an accurate representation of the hydrodynamics laboratory,” she said. “There certainly were a lot of tubes and apparatuses there!”

The Fultz children also look forward to the serious work that Nakamura and his colleagues will do in the lab.

“In a world confronted by incipient climate change of potentially huge proportion, fundamental basic research in atmospheric and fluid dynamics is a necessity, not an option,” said Fultz’s son, David, of Chicago. “I am hopeful that this new lab will grow to become a vital part of the department’s research efforts and that Professor Nakamura will encourage a new generation of researchers to get their hands wet.”
Last modified at 03:32 PM CST on Tuesday, June 07, 2005.

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