Permafrost Tunnel Outreach Funded

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute received a four year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support an Innovations in Development project for Advancing Informal STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Learning (AISL).

The project, Hot Times in Cold Places: The Hidden World of Permafrost (PF-World), builds and expands on a half-century of climate-related education and outreach activities at the nation’s only research permafrost tunnel, located near Fox, Alaska. Using permafrost as a focus, the investigators will explore the power of immersive experiences and real objects to improve learning about climate change. At the same time, the project will broaden the reach of the tunnel, with its demonstrated ability to get people excited about permafrost, by developing programs and exhibits that will travel throughout Alaska and the rest of the U.S.

The project has four components: 1) development of a 2000 square-foot traveling exhibit that will tour the nation, starting with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland; 2) exhibit and program enhancements to the learning opportunities at the tunnel itself; 3) programs, table-top exhibits and oral history collection that will take place (over 4 years) in about 27 predominantly Native Alaskan villages; and 4) an education research study.

Professor Matthew Sturm is the principal investigator for the project. Research Assistant Professor Laura Conner is co-investigator, while Angela Larson, owner of the Goldstream Group, will serve as the external evaluator. Postdoctoral Fellow Santosh Panda and Senior Science Consultant Jessica Garron will take the Traveling Program ‘tunnel on the road’ to 27 small, remote and mostly native communities in Alaska on a rolling schedule.

Two key partners in the project are the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, who operates the tunnel, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), who will build the first-ever national travelling exhibit on permafrost. Vicki Coats of OMSI serves as a co-investigator on the project. The 2000 square-foot traveling exhibit is expected to be at three museums per year for eight years.

The overarching goal of the project is to engage the public in the topic of the nature and prevalence of permafrost, its scale on the earth and the important role it plays in the global climate.