The Ward Beecher Planetarium and CosmoQuest – A Partnership with NASA

Earlier in the year, it was announced that Youngstown State University’s Ward Beecher Planetarium received funding through a cooperative agreement with NASA, to work with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on CosmoQuest.

cq-logo“CosmoQuest was developed in 2012,” said Dr. Patrick Durrell, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at YSU. “We call it an online research facility. It’s a website, cosmoquest.org, where you can learn astronomy, you can take classes, you can find materials for teachers, and more.”

One of the things that makes CosmoQuest fairly unique is the idea of citizen science—making the average person into a helpful contributor to science.

“There are little projects where you can get the everyday public involved,” said Dr. Durrell. “They can go online with a little bit of training and they can take part in science. So CosmoQuest was sort of developed on all of those things, to not only—like many other places—try to educate people about astronomy and space science, but also to get people involved.”

The full grant over five years totals around $11.5 million, of which YSU is receiving $650,000. The funding has gone toward new computer work stations, render farms, full-dome cameras, animation equipment, and an additional member of the planetarium team, digital content designer Alexa Alpern.

With these new and updated resources, the planetarium can now produce more content for the planetarium and for the CosmoQuest project.

“Instead of creating one show in two years, we’re going to start creating shorter things and more of them, because some of these shows for the high-end systems can cost $8-10 thousand each,” said Dr. Durrell.

What this means is that the Ward Beecher Planetarium will create a variety of short videos and animations that other planetariums will be able to use and incorporate into their own shows for free. Many other planetariums don’t have the money to buy new shows or the equipment to create full shows, and that’s where CosmoQuest comes in.

“NASA wants to get the word out,” said Dr. Durrell. “Science isn’t really science until you let somebody know about it.   Our part of the project is getting the word out through the planetarium.”

Fully equipped with updated technology and experienced faculty and staff, we can expect some great new educational content from the Ward Beecher Planetarium in the coming months and years, thanks to funding from NASA and this partnership with CosmoQuest.

The Ward Beecher Planetarium Celebrates 50 Years of Education

planetarium then and nowThe Ward Beecher Planetarium was first opened to the public in March 1967. This year, for the entire academic year, we are celebrating its fiftieth anniversary or its fiftieth birthday if you prefer.

“We’re making March the anniversary extravaganza month—every weekend we’re doing something special—but we’re kicking off the celebration this semester,” said planetarium lecturer Tiffany Wolbrecht.

In the coming months, the planetarium will feature audience favorites as well as brand new content. The Mahoning Valley Astronomical Society will be visiting to talk about telescopes, the very popular Laser Weekend and First Night shows are coming this winter, and special guests will be making appearances.

“In March, we are having an alumni weekend where we bring back a lot of people who have worked in the planetarium over the course of the fifty years, including Warren Young, who was the very first planetarium director when the planetarium opened in 1967,” said Tiffany.

During this special weekend in March will be a unique lecture called Skywatch: Then and Now, which highlights what was known about space and the night sky in 1967 compared to the things we know now.

Beginning in February, the Ward Beecher Planetarium is offering a short lecture series to the public; one lecture each month until May.

“We are bringing in professional astronomers to talk about their areas of research,” said Tiffany. “They are areas of astronomy that are hot topics right now that people are really interested in.”

If there is a lot of interest in these lectures, it is something that will continue to be offered in the future with more astronomers and more topics.

Curt Spivey, planetarium engineer and lecturer, reminds us that Ward Beecher wanted the planetarium to be a free educational resource for everyone in the area, and that is what it remains today.

“We are highlighting the past, celebrating the present, and going to the future,” said Curt.

Join us in celebrating the past fifty years of the Ward Beecher Planetarium and looking forward to the next fifty years, whatever that may bring. Visit their website for more information and a schedule of events.

Faculty Recent Publications: Pat Durrell

In addition to the following publications, Dr. Durrell gave a talk on February 25 titled “Globular Clusters in Massive Galaxies” at the workshop “Baryons at Low Densities: The Stellar Halos around Galaxies” at the European Southern Observatory HQ, in Garching, Germany

“The Next Generation Virgo Cluster Survey. VIII. The Spatial Distribution of Globular Clusters in the Virgo Cluster,” by Patrick R. Durrell et al 2014, published in the Astrophysical Journal, vol. 794, p. 103
NOTE: former YSU Physics/Astronomy graduate Katharine Accetta is also a co-author on this paper

“The Next Generation Virgo Cluster Survey. XV. The Photometric Redshift Estimation for Background Sources,” by Anand Raichoor et al (P.R.Durrell as one co-author) 2014, published in the Astrophysical Journal, vol. 797, p. 102

“The Next Generation Virgo Cluster Survey. VI. The Kinematics of Ultra-compact Dwarfs and Globular Clusters in M87,” by  Hong-Xin Zhang et al. (P.R.Durrell as one co-author) 2015, published in the Astrophysical Journal, vol. 802, p. 30

Smith Receives Grant

Congratulations to Debbie Smith, a part-time faculty member in the YSU Physics & Astronomy Department, who was awarded an American Chemical Society Grant for $1,487. Ms. Smith, who is from Poland, was the sole principle investigator on the proposal. The grant is to purchase Vernier equipment for the Chemistry and Physics labs at Poland High School participating in the College-in-High-School Program at YSU in the STEM College. The equipment to be purchased includes Vernier interfaces, temperature probes, pH probes, conductivity probes, Colorimeter, Drop Counter, Light Sensors and Logger Pro3. With the new equipment, students will be able to perform experiments using extensive computer data collection techniques to help them interpret, analyze and draw conclusions in their laboratory classes.

WISE Career Day for Girls in Grades 6-12

Women in the science and engineering fields are underrepresented; however, one program at Youngstown State University is bringing exposure in these areas to the forefront.

Panelists lead discussion.

The fifteenth annual Women in Science and Engineering Career Day (WISE) will be held on YSU’s campus Saturday, March 3, 2012. This free all day event is open to girls in grades 6-12.

The program is filled with educational, hands-on activities throughout campus, and presentations from a keynote speaker and panelists of industry professionals.
YSU Professor and Director of WISE, Diana Fagan, said the program began because participation in these fields is low, and WISE wants to “reach” the girls “before they attend college.” The first year of WISE saw 56-80 girls from twenty different schools come for the event; these numbers have dramatically increased. Within the past five years, 120-140 girls from 99 schools have partaken in WISE each year, and come anywhere from Akron to Pittsburgh, Fagan noted.

Young girls participate in science activity.

Dr. Pamela L. Gay is this year’s opening keynote speaker, and is an assistant research professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Gay’s educational background is extensive: she received her B.S. in astrophysics from Michigan State University, and her Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Texas.

On her blog, Star Stryder, Gay states that she is …”focused on using new media to engage people in science & technology.” Another way she furthers this is by co-hosting Astronomy Cast; a weekly program that answers listeners questions, and discusses various scientific topics.

One of the many benefits of WISE is that the girls simply will have “fun” Fagan said. Workshops are designed to be very interactive, and may include activities such as investigating a crime scene, fingerprinting, or involvement with chemistry, physical therapy, and bioengineering. The girls can also choose from various panel discussions, and will be linked with women in science and engineering disciplines that have provided their information in order to serve as mentors.

While the girls join their sessions, parents or guardians will have the opportunity for a tour of YSU’s campus, as well as attend financial aid informational sessions.

WISE will be expanding in the future, thanks to the generous support of the Edward W. Powers Educational Charitable Fund. Senior Development Officer, Heather Chunn, conveyed that a public announcement of a new endowment for the program will be held on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 2:00pm.

Girls coming to the Women in Science and Engineering Career Day receive real exposure to occupations in science and engineering fields. If they continue with their interest and work hard, they may become future students at Youngstown State University.

More information and registration for WISE is available on the College of STEM website.

Students present at Material Research Society Conference

Andrew B. Smith and Michael McMaster, students of Physics and Astronomy, presented a poster at the Material Research Society Conference in Boston the week of November 28, 2011.

Michael McMaster with his poster.

The poster Andrew and Michael presented involves research being done in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in Dr. Tom Oder’s Wide Band Gap Semiconductor Laboratory, which currently focuses on optimizing the production of smooth, very high purity Zinc Oxide thin films. They then dope these high quality films, that is, inject specific foreign elements into the ZnO to adjust its electronic properties. The subsequent semiconductor material can be used to make, in the case of ZnO, optoelectronic devices such as LEDs and transparent electrodes.

ZnO is an attractive semiconductor, at least concerning optoelectronic applications, because of its low cost and low toxicity compared to competing materials. The negative doping of ZnO is well-established in industry, but the essential next step for ZnO’s advancement as a competitive semiconductor is to unlock the key to positive doping, which has so far proven to be a real challenge for researchers including ourselves. Solving this problem would open the way for many new and more efficient applications and devices.

Travel funds for the trip were provided by the College of STEM and the Office of the Provost.

Dr. John Feldmeier named to Portfolio Review Committee

Dr. John Feldmeier
Dr. John Feldmeier, Assistant Professor of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, was named to the portfolio review committee for the National Science Foundation’s program in Astronomical Sciences. The NSF funds a significant portion of the astronomy research across the country, in addition to its role as the leading funding agency for scientific research in the U.S.

Every ten years, astronomers across the nation make a list of research priorities called the Decadal Survey. However, this time, the survey was done before the global economic collapse. The portfolio review committee will advise the NSF on how to proceed with the planned projects.

Feldmeier’s student

Dr. Feldmeier said his involvement on the committee ensures that YSU STEM students have the opportunity to proceed with their scientific research at the university. He added that many large universities like Harvard and Princeton are involved in this process, and his position on the committee will raise YSU’s profile with those major research universities.

“I am greatly honored to be part of the NSF Astronomy Portfolio Review. We hope to find the best way for astronomy to move forward in a very difficult environment,” he said.

For more information about the portfolio review, visit the program website.