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Planetarium Shows Evoke CuriosityPosted April 18, 2011 | Sara Petersen
Brett Ellman, Kent State University physics professor and planetarium director, wants to create an appreciation for the universe, which he does through hosting free shows at Kent State's planetarium.
"One special thing about Kent State's planetarium is that you have a professor giving the public shows and grad students doing school shows," Ellman says. "We get lots of questions after the show, and we can give much more authoritative answers."
Each show is about an hour long, and the professor and grad student engage the audience with fun, hands-on demonstrations, like using a bell in a vacuum, dropping a powerful magnet in a metal tube and watching it slowly fall, and passing around meteorites to look at.
"We have lots of fun toys for the 'wow' factor," Ellman says. "People have a really great time and the kids particularly enjoy it."
Different types of shows are offered every year ranging from classic shows about how the heavens were used as a calendar thousands of years ago, to the search for extraterrestrial life, to topical subjects such as how Pluto was classified as a dwarf planet.
Three shows in April are about the rebirth of stars and related phenomena, including how the universe recycles materials and how it's always changing.
The public shows are open to everybody age six and up and attract parents, children and couples on dates.
"Children are automatically curious and people who are older hear about stuff in the news and come to learn about it," Ellman says. "And people come for dates. It's a dark room with the stars above, why not?"
Ellman said the best thing about Kent State's planetarium is that its programs are free to attend.
"Schools are really strapped for money," Ellman says. "If you can get your kids here, we'll do the rest. To have something that's educational, fun and free? Well, there are not many things like that left."
Ellman doesn't look at the shows as a class. His biggest goal with every show is to have people take away an appreciation of the universe and become more curious.
"I once had a kid about seven years old ask me 'Is the moon going to crash into the Earth tonight?'" Ellman says. "I said 'No, it's not. Don't worry.'"
To arrange a planetarium show for youth, educational and civic groups of 25 or more people, call Ellman at 330-672-9575.
The public show "Cosmic Beginnings," the final event of the academic year, is at 8 p.m. April 22 at the planetarium in Smith Hall. The show is free, but call 330-672-2246 to make reservations because seats fill up quickly.