Portal To Current Research

The Portal to Current Research space showcases local scientists' advances in current research through a combination of digital media, graphics, objects and interactive displays and programs. Content and themes change several times throughout the year.

Very few opportunities exist for the public to learn about current scientific research and its impacts. This program is one more way Pacific Science Center is working to help people of all ages understand and appreciate some of the current research being done in our own region.

Pacific Science Center's monthly Scientist Spotlight program, featuring local scientists who share their work with guests through hands-on activities and conversation, is included within the space when relevant.

Currently Showing

Memory: Past Meets Present
Sept. 20, 2014-Feb. 16, 2015

What did you do yesterday? What do you remember from last year? What memories guide your decisions and actions today?

How do we remember? Why do we forget? Learn all about the science of memory in our exhibit Memory: Past Meets Present.

We are able to learn because we are able to remember. We learn abstract facts, we learn new skills, and we learn from experience. Our memory—our memories—make us and shape us. But what have we learned so far about the three-pound organ in our heads that makes this all possible?

Come and learn how we have gone from looking at the brain and neurons to looking at chemical and electrical pathways.

Then trick your brain with two of our memory demonstrations. Learn how distance changes what you see and what you remember. Then explore how our brains remember faces – can you remember who you saw?

Previous Portal Exhibits

Investigating Arctic Ice Melt

"Investigating Arctic Ice Melt" features UW's Polar Science Center researchers Mike Steele, Axel Schweiger, Bonnie Light and Ignatius Rigor. The Arctic is undergoing dramatic changes. Over the past thirty years, sea ice has been diminishing. Researchers at University of Washington's Polar Ice Center are helping to piece together the complex interplay between the oceans, sea ice, temperature and the atmosphere. A better understanding of these interactions will lead to more accurate predictions of future ice melt.

Meet the Scientists!

Mike Steele- Mike Steele is interested in the large-scale circulation of sea ice and water in the Arctic Ocean. He uses both observed data and model simulations to better understand the circulation pathways as well as the causes of variations in these pathways. Dr. Steele has active field programs in which data are collected in the field by his team and others, using aircraft, ships and autonomous sensors like buoys and profiling floats. In the short video below he talks abouut some of the challenges of polar research.

Axel Schweiger - "I study the interaction of sea ice with clouds and radiation using satellite data, models and in-situ observations. I have been working to improve estimates of the surface radiation balance in the Arctic. The focus of my work has been developing and evaluating satellite-based algorithms and assembling the TOVS Polar Pathfinder data set, a 20-year data set of polar temperature, humidity profiles and cloud information."

Bonnie Light - "I study the physics of sea ice. The focus of my research is on the interactions between natural solar radiation and the frozen surface of the polar oceans. Each spring and summer, earth's polar caps receive ample sunlight. Understanding how this bright, highly reflective cap on the high latitude oceans reflects, absorbs, and transmits light helps us better understand the role of the cryosphere in earth's climate. Sea ice forms a relatively thin barrier between ocean and atmosphere; understanding its stability helps us make improved predictions of its response to changes in earth's climate, as well as its role in shaping earth's climate."

Ignatius Rigor - "I study Arctic sea ice, which is one of the primary indicators of global climate change. The ice waxes and wanes driven by variations in sunlight and temperature. Changes in wind also play an important role by redistributing the ice across the Arctic Ocean creating areas of open water, and by compressing this ice into ridges. Making sense of the complex interplay between the air, ocean and sea ice is a challenging puzzle that motivates my research."

Exploring Our Solar System With Local NASA Scientists
September 2013-Februray 2014

This exhibition features the research of UW's Erika Harnett and the Space Science Institute's Josh Bandfield. These researchers' vastly different work may someday lead to the exploration of Mars. Erika looks at Solar Storms while Josh uses Infrared images to map the moon and Mars.

Meet The Scientists

Josh Bandfield - "I've been interested in science pretty much forever. After high school, I was living with my parents and going to a community college. So here I am, college freshman, and all the classes are full – except geology. And it turned out that geology is pretty much the most awesome thing ever. I realized that the people studying the planets aren't astronomers, they're geologists. I finished my geology degree and started an internship doing planetary geology at Arizona State, which led to grad school, which led to the University of Washington and NASA and Mars rover missions and everything else. A lot of my research is basic stuff – there's a planet out there that's different than our planet and we have some big basic questions that we're trying to figure out: What is Mars made of? What is its climate like? Where can we land a rover?"

Erika Harnett - "I've always been interested in science and space and what's beyond Earth. When I graduated from high school I wanted to send people to Mars. Towards the end of my physics degree, I got some very bad advice – that I should choose something more practical. After studying hazardous waste containment, I decided to start over. I started my PhD in geophysics and ended up doing computer modeling by accident. I realized that I really, really loved it because I can create any world I want to in my computer. I want to make it safer and easier for humans to explore the solar system. And solar storms are one of the hazards we have to worry about."

Chemists: Catalysts for Change
October 23, 2011 - February 11, 2012

Seattle researchers are doing something really big. The "holy grail" of big in the chemistry realm. And that's very desirable to most of us since creating less waste, fewer toxins and more energy efficiency in chemicals and fuels is high priority in this savvy, environmentally conscious community.

Looking at more efficient, inexpensive and environmentally friendly ways to make chemicals and fuels, this national network of scientists is headquartered at the University of Washington's Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis (CENTC).

What exactly is catalysis? Simply put, it changes how a chemical reaction happens. This process can speed up a reaction, it can make new reactions possible and can allow different starting materials to be used. The chemical that causes these changes is called a catalyst, which can be organic, synthetic or metal. The catalyst is not used up in a reaction (and thus can be used again and again).

Catalysis is extremely important to our economy. Nearly all industrial production of fuels, plastics, drugs and other chemicals relies on catalysis to be possible. Development of new catalysts is critical for the development of more efficient, economic and greener technologies.

Life in Extreme Environments
May 27, 2011 - October 4,2011

The first exhibit focuses on "Life in the Extreme Environments," an exhibit and program experience based on Dr. Kelley's research on hydrothermal vents.

According to University of Washington Oceanographer Dr. Deborah Kelley, 70% of the volcanism on Earth occurs beneath the surface of the ocean along a 70,000 km (roughly 43,500 miles) mountain chain that stretches around the planet like the seam of a baseball. As these rocks in the mountains cool and crack, seawater migrates miles down into the oceanic crust, forming the largest fractured aquifer system on Earth, creating hydrothermal vents.

Learn more about Dr. Kelley's research in hydrothermal vents at Pacific Science Center's newest exhibit and presentation space, Portal to Current Research, bringing guests up close and personal with Dr. Kelley's work and other fascinating research happening in our region.


Funded through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, the Portal space is a platform created as part of Pacific Science Center's commitment to connecting our public with current research in relevant, engaging and inspiring ways. In 2010, the Portal to the Public program also received an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant for $576,000 to develop an updatable exhibit and program space that will feature changing regional health-related research. The exhibit space is located within the Science Center's exhibit, Professor Wellbody's Academy of Health and Wellness. Projects funded by the National Leadership grants must have national impact and generate results that can be widely replicated, extending the benefit of this federal support.

This exhibit series is funded by a grant from The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.