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 Tuesday, October 28, 2008 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter

IN THE SPOTLIGHT


Fiske Planetarium: stars, lasers and a whole lot more
by Suzanne Traub-Metlay, education programs manager, Fiske Planetarium

Walk into Fiske Planetarium today and you’ll see:

• Science on a Sphere
• Art exhibits (national and local touring works)
• Hands-on science exhibits
• Lobby docent and other knowledgeable staff
• Community information tables

And you haven’t even entered the theater yet!

Fiske’s theater seats more than 200 people and is a venue for CU classes ranging from astronomy to museum studies to theater. Aboriginal and Native American storytellers, Nobel Prize-winners and distinguished scientists from a variety of disciplines and institutions provide live multimedia presentations at Fiske. The scientists and employees of Fiske write and produce their own planetarium shows, some of which have been distributed worldwide, and live concerts in 2008 ranged from avant-garde electronica to sophisticated jazz.

For more than 30 years, Fiske Planetarium and Science Center has provided astronomy education and entertainment to the CU community. Named in honor of Wallace Franz Fiske (class of 1917) who donated more than $1 million to "build and equip a planetarium for the University of Colorado," the facility opened in 1975. Its striking aluminum geodesic dome makes Fiske Planetarium a distinctive landmark on the CU-Boulder campus. Inside, its 65-foot diameter projection screen dome is the largest from Chicago to Los Angeles. In 2007 Fiske’s unique building design won a prestigious award from the American Institute of Architects.

Laser shows at Fiske began in 1976, providing an intermittent revenue stream as well as technical training for undergraduates. While the music accompanying the laser visuals has evolved, by far the most popular laser shows at Fiske remain set to timeless classics by Pink Floyd. In 1976, Fiske Planetarium had the honor of hosting the International Society of Planetarium Educators (now the International Planetarium Society) Conference to establish its presence in the planetarium community. From the outset, the mission of Fiske Planetarium was to serve undergraduate astronomy students, K-12 school groups and the general public.

Current Fiske outreach and education efforts include Starlab, a portable planetarium that can show starfields, solar system objects, and the Milky Way galaxy to audiences across Colorado. With generous funding provided by the nonprofit Impact on Education as well as 29th Street Mall, Starlab visits for fourth and eighth grade students in Boulder Valley School District are provided at no cost to the schools. Through collaborative efforts such as “Colorado Project Astro-Geo” and “Science is Everywhere,” Starlab and other outreach activities are provided to K-12 classrooms in other school districts at no or reduced cost.

Currently, more than 4,000 CU undergraduates and hundreds of community college students learn astronomy at Fiske Planetarium each year. Fiske provides jobs and technical training for dozens of CU students and high school volunteers. Through course fees and direct support, the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences further ensures that Fiske plays a vital role in undergraduate education at CU. NASA and NOAA grants are a key source of financial support for Fiske, which has established itself as a leading nonprofit producer of scientifically accurate and education standards-aligned planetarium shows.

With plans to expand Spanish-language programs, produce original works for Science on a Sphere and develop new digital visuals to accompany Fritz’s analog stars, Fiske Planetarium staff look forward to many more decades of serving CU, K-12 school districts and the Colorado community.

LASP: 50 years as a forerunner in space research

Fiske Planetarium: stars, lasers and a whole lot more

Student Perspective: One step closer to finding life in space?

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