STARLAB takes students to infinity and beyond…
Students at Lake Holcombe took a trip to the stars Nov. 7-8, with a portable planetarium from the CESA 10 office. Through the STARLAB, schools in the STEM program are eligible to have the planetarium come as an educational piece during the school day.
Joan Neumann has spent the last 30 years, traveling from school to school, introducing kids in 4K-12th grade, to the wonders of the night sky. She’s done it so long, she has young teachers and parents say they remember her visiting their schools when they were kids.
“It’s a part-time job, but it’s a pretty cool part-time job,” said Neumann.
The 14- to 15-foot canvas dome is inflated by a positive air pressure fan and contains within a six-cylinder projector, showing the night sky. The cylinders project planets, moons and constellation programs.
“We can do more in here than just the stars,” said Neumann.
While at Lake Holcombe, one of the cylinders was set to show latitudes and longitudes. Using Ancient Greek and Native American stories and myths, Neumann weaves more than just science into the mix. Although there are newer models out there, with progressive technology for the projectors, Neumann says she prefers the original model.
“But the neat thing about this one is, it’s the old style, so I’m the program,” said Neumann. “And I can interact with kids in ways that a digitized program doesn’t. Each group has different questions.”
She can also show what’s planned in the coming years for space exploration.
“In the 2020s, they plan to send people to the moon,” said Neumann. “And in the 2030s, they plan to send people to Mars. It’s a real exciting time for space exploration, like it was when I was a kid and we first sent people into space.”
In her time with the STARLAB, Neumann has seen four different domes be replaced, which is not a cheap thing, costing $40,000 each time.
“About 8,000 kids go through here, every year, so they can kind of wear out,” said Neumann.
Neumann’s plans are to retire after next year, as it’s getting harder crawling in and out of the tunnel to the STARLAB. Her hope, is a parent or teacher will step up to take over for her.
She says it’s cool how students become fascinated after the STARLAB visit and bug the school librarian for more research on the stars, and how fun it is hearing students’ questions and ideas.
“It’s interesting, different age groups and different personalities,” said Neumann.