.The seeds of the National Center for Atmospheric Research extend back to a cross-country drive by Walter Orr Roberts (pictured at right), who left Harvard University in 1940 to bring a solar coronagraph to the Rocky Mountains, Roberts was a 25-year-old graduate student interested in pure solar physics, but the world was at war, and that war was to shape not only his research but science as a whole. Weather prediction was proving critical to land, sea, and air campaigns. The first computer, ENIAC, was soon to help the army design nuclear weapons. Even Roberts’ solar observations were to have practical applications in predicting disruptions to communications.
When the war ended, the fledgling field of meteorology had gained new importance and university departments were springing up. A small group of far-sighted university scientists recommended forming a National Institute for Atmospheric Research (later renamed the National Center) to enrich their collaborations and provide them with collective research tools. NCAR was born, guided by these same universities organized as the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Walt Roberts was appointed NCAR’s first director, and the solar observatory he founded became part of the new center. An iconic building took shape in the mid-1960s (left photo) on the edge of the Rockies near Boulder, Colorado.
The images that follow are snapshots of the progress NCAR and UCAR have made through the subsequent five decades, a sample of the people, the facilities, and the science that have embodied the vision of those early leaders.
Click on any decade highlighted below to see the science unfold, from Roberts on his mountaintop in the 1940s to scientists circling the globe in 2010, documenting the whereabouts of greenhouse gases. You'll find more about our first five decades in UCAR@50.
We're making the next decade of history now. We report on some of the latest advances in our community via UCAR Magazine, Research in Brief, and elsewhere across our websites. For detailed summaries of recent NCAR research, see the NCAR Annual Report.