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Planetarium Upgrades Improve Teaching and Research

The new and improved Royden G. Derrick Planetarium at BYU is now open and available for students and visitors after undergoing various upgrades during the summer months.

Last summer the planetarium installed a new Digistar 4® full-dome projection system, that allows computer generated animations in planetarium presentations. Properly housing the new equipment required some minor renovations in the control area that took place this summer.

The recent upgrades were installed to further research opportunities and provide astronomy students with a greater understanding of how our universe works. In addition, animation students are able to develop and enhance their animation skills with the planetarium’s digital computer platform.

“It provides an actual laboratory that allows you to simulate a real world, three-dimensional environment for educational research,” said Dr. Jeannette Lawler, planetarium supervisor at the Eyring Science Center. “It’s a teaching tool primarily, but it’s also a laboratory both for animation students to develop their animation and simulations skills and for ongoing educational research.”

Students are currently participating in an NSF funded research project that focuses on using head-mounted computer displays as an accommodation method for deaf children. Another group of students is developing realistic, scientifically accurate astronomy simulations for the planetarium. Learning to accurately simulate and animate astronomical objects helps to prepare students for careers in the film and gaming industries.

David Derrick, an astronomy enthusiast and a member of the College Volunteer Leadership Council in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, played a crucial role in funding the full-dome digital projector. His interest in computer animation and astrophysics research was a key factor in making the planetarium upgrades a reality.

“This latest upgrade has been a really nice addition that’s greatly enhanced the things we can do with our planetarium,” Lawler said. “Before, it was just a teaching tool — pretty much. Now, we can do all of this research with it, as well.”

The planetarium is also used as a community outreach initiative for BYU. It consistently attracts school field trips, boy scouts, and other children and youth programs to come and learn more about astronomy.

Astronomy students will have the opportunity to present planetarium shows and gain valuable experience participating in the public outreach component of astronomy. This experience is extremely helpful when students graduate and can provide opportunities to work in community outreach programs for government-funded labs and public planetariums.

Students across campus are welcome at Friday night shows run by the BYU Astronomical Society, a student-run organization in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

For more information about the Royden G. Derrick Planetarium and a schedule of show times, visit http://planetarium.byu.edu/.

By Chris Scheitinger Posted on