This ROVER does some amazing tricks

ASHEVILLE, NC, May 6, 2008 – The teachers who make science an up close and personal experience for children in Western North Carolina have an impressive new tool to use, thanks to an outreach education van offered by Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at UNC Asheville.

Called ROVER (RENCI Outreach Vehicle for Education and Research), the van is outfitted with wireless Internet, laptops, a plasma TV, microscopes, and GPS locators, all powered by a biodiesel generator.  RiverLink, the North Carolina Arboretum and the Colburn Earth Science Museum will use ROVER to go out to schools and field trip locations to teach lessons about the geology, hydrology, weather, ecology and climate of Western North Carolina.  Teachers in Western North Carolina are encouraged to put ROVER into their lesson plans for the coming year.

“ROVER brings a hands-on science and technology field trip to area schools,” said Bridget O’Hara, Education and Outreach Coordinator for RENCI at UNC Asheville.   “The technology in the van allows science lessons specific to our mountains to be delivered in the classroom, on a stream’s edge or in a rock quarry.”

RiverLink’s Use of ROVER
ROVER will be used as a mobile classroom for the first time during the week of May 5 as part of RiverLink’s  Paddling the Pigeon, a five-day canoe trip that French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson is taking along the Pigeon River (a tributary of the French Broad) to raise awareness about the challenges that face the French Broad Watershed.

RiverLink, a regional nonprofit spearheading the economic and environmental revitalization of the French Broad River and its tributaries, will position ROVER alongside the Pigeon River and use it with Central Haywood High School students in connection with its Kids in the Creek program, a hands-on opportunity for students to learn about factors affecting water quality of streams and the aquatic organisms that live there.

Students will be able to put aquatic insects under the microscopes and see them on the large TV screen.  They will also see GIS maps of the Pigeon River and Water in Western North Carolina, an animated visualization about consequences in the mountains when rain falls on impervious surfaces such as concrete and asphalt during a storm. When rain can’t soak into the earth, it cascades downhill, swelling streams and rivers and causing them to quickly flood over their banks.

As the simulated storms featured in the visualization intensify, students will observe that floods are affected not only by the amount of development in an area, but also where development occurs. The visualization, a collaboration between RENCI, the Media Arts Project and Klein Digital, was developed primarily for city and rural planners to use in their decisionmaking, but is also valuable to students and the general public.  Additional Water in Western North Carolina movies will be produced over the next year.

“We’re educating the next generation to be great stewards of our watershed,” said Kathryn Blau, RiverLink’s Education Coordinator.  ROVER’s technology will help us get students’ attention on issues facing the river and show them that they need to care because the river is an important natural and recreational resource.”  RiverLink offers its program to schools in counties within the French Broad Watershed.

Colburn Earth Science Museum’s Enhanced Programs
The Colburn Earth Science Museum, which each year educates more than 10,000 students through in-house and outreach programs, will use ROVER to deliver enhanced earth science classes throughout Western North Carolina.

One of the first ROVER programs that will be offered will be at the Colburn’s outdoor classroom at the Grove Stone Quarry in Swannanoa.  Elementary-age through college-level students, who already can take part in a Colburn quarry experience, will be able to get a multimedia understanding of the quarry geology, the Asheville watershed and the stream biology of tributaries that flow into the Swannanoa River through the use of ROVER.

“We are excited that ROVER will allow us to better educate students on subjects ranging from the processes that formed the Southern Appalachians to the rocks and minerals found at the quarry to the macro-invertebrates in the streams,” said Kathleen O. Davis, executive director of the Colburn. “Through ROVER, we’ll be able to use tools such as on-screen graphics and microscope television hook-ups for more experiential learning.”

The North Carolina Arboretum’s Education Outreach Programs
“”The North Carolina Arboretum’s (TNCA) Environmental Education programs already host over 14,000 students per year in camps, scout programs and other on-site learning opportunities, and the addition of this new outreach dimension allows us to reach an even wider population,” said Benjamin Colvin, Education Outreach Coordinator at TNCA.  “Our outreach programs will utilize 12 existing courses and several new ones to continue covering K-12 North Carolina curriculum standards.  The ROVER will greatly assist with TNCA Outreach, which will take low-cost environmental education programming to rural WNC schools and offer students an expanse of educational experiences.”

TNCA offers its programs to schools in Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Madison, Macon, McDowell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, and Yancey counties that are within 90 miles of TNCA.

The Renaissance Computing Institute brings together teams of talented researchers, engineers, technologists and leaders in government, business, the arts and humanities to attack major research questions and community issues in ways that accelerate discovery and drive innovation. RENCI has nationally significant expertise and capabilities in high performance computing, visualization, collaborative tools, networking, device prototyping, and data systems as well as engagement sites across the state. Founded in 2004 as a major collaborative venture of Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the state of North Carolina, RENCI is a statewide virtual organization.

RENCI at UNC Asheville leverages regional educational and technological assets to promote economic development in Asheville and Buncombe County.  It focuses primarily on disaster research, taking advantage of Western North Carolina’s expertise in weather and climate modeling, visualization and public outreach. RENCI is a leader in the Technology Cluster of the Asheville Hub.  Its work with community partners is an example of the collaboration the Hub is spurring to incubate effective community, cultural and economic development strategies for Asheville and Buncombe County.

For more information , contact:
Bridget O’Hara, RENCI at UNC Asheville