AMS 2020 Conference Highlights from the Unidata Staff

This year's annual American Meteorological Society meeting was held 12-16 January 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. Unidata Program Center staff were happy to be able to attend as presenters of talks and posters, conveners of sessions, and facilitators of workshops and short courses for students, educators, and researchers. Staff members also spent time meeting community members in the new exhibit hall booth bringing together a variety of UCAR and NCAR programs in one space. As always, we were also glad to meet so many prospective community members at the AMS Student Conference.

With so much going on at the conference, we can't cover everything here. Instead, we present some highlights as recalled by UPC staff members who attended.

19th Student Conference

Career fair
Unidata at the AMS Student Conference Career Fair (Click to enlarge)

As in recent years, Unidata had a table set up for the Student Conference Career Fair, held Saturday and Sunday evenings before the main conference exhibition hall opened. Unidata's table attracted many visitors, with students interested in data and software available from Unidata as well as Unidata's Summer Internship program . We were fortunate that two of our 2019 summer interns, Jessica Blunt and Max Grover, were able to join Program Center staff at the table to talk with students and describe his experience working at Unidata. (Our third 2019 summer intern, Aodhan Sweeney, arrived at the conference later in the week.)

Jon Thielen
Jon Thielen teaching during the student Python workshop

Unidata (and our former summer interns) had more going on at the Student Conference this year than meeting students at the Career Fair. Sunday afternoon saw a student-organized hands-on Python Users’ Workshop that allowed beginners and experts alike to enhance their ability to find, analyze, and explore data using Python tools. The workshop used NSF Jetstream cloud-computing resources organized under the Unidata Science Gateway to allow roughly 140 student participants to use their own laptops (or tablets!) to connect to Jupyter notebooks without the need to install any software.

The 90-minute workshop was led by three former Unidata summer interns — Matthew Wilson (2017), Jon Thielen (2018), and Max Grover (2019). The three instructors took participants through a variety of notebook-based exercises designed to help them get up to speed with scientific Python concepts and tools, showing them how to use open source resources from Unidata and elsewhere to advance their own scientific learning and research.

Unidata developer Sean Arms lent the student organizing committee a hand, and developer Julien Chastang configured the Unidata Science Gateway resources used for the workshop.

MetPy Reaches 1.0 Release (Candidate)

MetPy Short Course
This year's AMS Short Course on MetPy

In another developing tradition, Unidata again hosted a day-long AMS Short Course on Sunday before the official start of the meeting — this one titled “Plotting in Python with Metpy: GEMPAK-like Plots Made Easy.” Taught by Unidata developer Ryan May, former Unidata developer John Leeman, and MetPy contributor (and Unidata Users Committee chair) Kevin Goebbert from Valparaiso University, the short course was filled to capacity with community members looking for tools and techniques to replace their existing GEMPAK workflows with modern Python alternatives. The developers used the short course as a way to introduce MetPy users to a new programming interface designed to provide a GEMPAK-like plotting workflow.

As a bonus for Short Course attendees, May announced the release of the first Release Candidate for MetPy version 1.0. Although MetPy has been around as an Open Source project since 2008, development resources have been limited and progress has come in fits and starts. Recently, however, increasing involvement by users and developers in the wider community (including some of those same summer interns who were teaching at the Student Conference workshop) has led to significant progress and the development team's willingness to declare the MetPy interface “stable”.

MetPy talk
Ryan May describes the MetPy 1.0 release

May announced and described the MetPy 1.0 release in detail during the 10th Symposium on Advances in Modeling and Analysis Using Python. “Putting out a 1.0 release means that we’re committed to keeping the interface [software API] stable, so people can be confident that the code they write using MetPy will continue to work over a longer term,” he says.

Talks and Posters

In addition to Ryan May's talk as part of the Python Symposium, Unidata staff (and former summer interns!) presented a variety of talks throughout the conference. A complete list of presentations by Unidata Program Center staff can be found in this post.

Jessica Blunt
Jessica Blunt with her poster

The poster sessions were another good place to catch up with various Unidata projects. Wandering the poster hall, you could have run into:

  • Valparaiso University professor Kevin Goebbert and Unidata's Ryan May presenting MetPy declarative plotting interface.
  • 2019 Summer Interns Jessica Blunt and Max Grover describing the work they did while at the Unidata Program Center.
  • Unidata's Sean Arms, Ryan May, and Doug Dirks had a poster describing the history of the Summer Internship program.
  • Unidata's Ethan Davis discussing Unidata's efforts in support of the netCDF Climate and Forecast (CF) metadata conventions.

In addition, staff members served as chairs or facilitators for a number of sessions, with topics ranging from Python to NOAA's Big Data Project to efforts to support FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) Data and Open Data within the atmospheric and related sciences.

NOAA BDP
NOAA BDP Town Hall

NOAA Big Data Project

Unidata Program Director Mohan Ramamurthy has long been involved with NOAA's Big Data Project (BDP), which aims to make NOAA data more easily available through partnerships with commercial and non-commercial cloud service providers. At this year's AMS meeting, Ramamurthy facilitated a Town Hall session to provide the community with an update on the BDP, bringing together panelists from commercial participants, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, and Google to discuss the state of the project.

Visiting with Community

UCAR booth
Unidata shared booth space with other UCAR programs

As always, those of us who work for the Unidata community at the Program Center see the AMS annual meeting as an excellent opportunity to catch up with community members, learn what you're doing, and get feedback about what we're doing. If you attended the conference and visited us in the exhibit hall, you noticed that the setup was a little different this year — Unidata shared a larger booth space with all the other UCAR and NCAR programs who attended the conference.

We would love to hear your impressions of this arrangement for the AMS exhibit hall (we did the same thing at the AGU meeting in December). If you have comments or suggestions for how can improve this important forum for interaction between the Unidata Program Center staff and community members, please visit this short survey managed by the UCAR communications group, mention that you came by the booth to visit with Unidata, and tell us about your experience.

One Last Thing...

Unidata is in the middle of conducting a community survey to guide our future development efforts for our analysis and visualization software packages. We really need your feedback to understand where we should put our resources so we can best meet your needs. The survey is quite short — it should take roughly five minutes to complete — and will help us understand how we can best support the Unidata community going forward. If you haven't already, please take a few minutes to complete the Unidata 2020 Community Survey. We appreciate your help!

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