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WCU Students and Public Alike Benefit From New Planetarium

Dr. Sandra F. Mather' 64, M'68
Dr. Sandra F. Pritchard Mather Planetarium

Students enrolled in the Department of Geology and Astronomy are now actually able to visualize what takes place below the Earth's surface during events such as an earthquake or volcano, and what may have occurred billions of years ago in space.

This past summer, the University replaced its 44-year-old system of gears and mirrors with a 32-foot nanoseam dome and powerful digital planetarium projector, designed specifically for "full dome" education. Built by Spitz, the world leader in projection domes, and powered by "Starry Night" and "The Layered Earth," the SciDome XD Touch system provides real time simulation for space and earth science teaching. Students can explore the layers of Earth in 3D detail, or immerse themselves in an interactive visual universe.

"In place of sky views seen only from the Earth, the new system allows students to look beyond the solar system and study star formations or clusters of galaxies and galactic mergers beyond our own Milky Way from any prospective," says Karen Vandlandingham, associate professor and director of the planetarium.

"Students have the capability of standing on Mars, for example, and of having a view as if they're next to the rover that was left there."

"Geology students are taking advantage of this equipment as well," says Vanlandingham. "The 'Layered Earth' program can project huge areas of the Earth onto the dome. Any data base of earthquakes, for example, can be projected - even the center of a quake. Students can also observe what's happening under the Earth's surface as a volcano develops."

Located in the Schmucker Science Center link, the new facility is named after alumna and retired faculty member Dr. Sandra F. Pritchard Mather. In addition to enhancing the educational experience of WCU students, the new planetarium is expected to continue being an exceptional resource for the surrounding community. Each year, thousands of children, local community groups and individuals attend its weekly private presentations and hour-long monthly evening shows - all which begin again on October 18.

For the Dr. Sandra F. Pritchard Mather Planetarium's public show schedule click here.