FMU and Florence communities converge through the cosmos

Anna Jackson , Staff Writer

ScienceSouth and FMU’s Dooley Planetarium have partnered through NASA to create Saturday programs for children in the Pee Dee to learn about different areas of study in science through hands on experience.

Dr. Jeannette Myers, director of the planetarium, and Stephen Welch, director of ScienceSouth, are the heads of this partnership.

NASA Saturdays have been taking place for two years. The program was implemented through a $780,000 grant from NASA for ScienceSouth and Dooley Planetarium. This grant allowed for renovations in the planetarium like adding a basic projector and a fully digital system. The grant also covered the operating cost of the NASA Saturdays, which are free to those who attend.

Our goals for the project are to formally establish the partnership between ScienceSouth and Dooley Planetarium to maximize resources and make a larger impact on the Pee Dee region,” Myers said. “[We want to] engage students and families in science activities to promote NASA, science literacy and excitement about possible careers in [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields, and encourage long-term involvement with, and appreciation for, NASA’s various science missions.”

The Saturday programs, which take place at FMU in the Cauthen Educational Media Center, feature a parachute activity where kids create parachutes from different materials to see which creates the most resistance. They also participate in a robotic activity that allows them to program and operate a rover through an obstacle course. A plate tectonics and volcanos activity informs children about the layers of the Earth. Lastly, a planetarium show showcases current missions being conducted through NASA.

FMU students can participate in the NASA Saturdays as workshop session leaders.

“The best thing about NASA Saturday is seeing kids interested in the sciences,” April Garrity, a sophomore physics major, said.

“[Student workers] play an important role as mentors to the youths in the Pee Dee and as ambassadors for the university,” Myers said.

One of the most recent shows was held on Sept. 13 entitled “The Loneliness Factor.” This show went through the most likely bodies in the universe that could contain life. Upcoming show titles include “Life and Death of a Star” and “The Christmas Star.”

FMU’s physics and astronomy department will host planetarium shows and observatory events in addition to the NASA Saturday program. These events are open to the public, free and require no reservation.

Planetarium shows are held in the CEMC Dooley Planetarium on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. These shows consist of several computer- generated images being projected onto the dome ceiling of the Planetarium, and each show is focused on a specific part of the universe.

The observatory dates can be found at astro. These events involve looking through telescopes at different celestial bodies in the solar system. The observatory also covers cosmic occurrences, such as meteor showers.

Most observatory events take place at FMU behind the University Center, but some take place at ScienceSouth.

Myers is looking for more student aids to help with some larger projects that are coming up in the near future. Student helpers will receive training and are paid $12 an hour through the grant.

“It is a great, cheap date on campus,” Dr. Ginger Bryngelson said. Bryngelson is an assistant professor of physics and one of the presenters for the planetarium shows.

Students interested in getting involved with the NASA Saturdays or attending events should stop by the planetarium or email Myers at jmyers@fmarion. edu.