Thanks to the continued generosity of the Whitworth and Dorothy Ferguson Foundation, the Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium at Buffalo State will resume public programming on Friday, March 6, after a two-year hiatus.
The planetarium, which temporarily closed in January 2013 to accommodate construction of Buffalo State’s $100 million Science and Mathematics Complex, will set up operations in Buckham Hall for the next four years inside a new inflatable planetarium with a state-of-the-art projector system. The Whitworth and Dorothy Ferguson Foundation funded the inflatable planetarium project—which is only slightly smaller than the former physical planetarium.
“Buffalo State is incredibly grateful for the generosity and support from the Whitworth and Dorothy Ferguson Foundation,” said Buffalo State President Katherine S. Conway-Turner. “Because of the foundation’s wonderful commitment to the planetarium project, Buffalo State will once again be able to provide the Western New York community—most importantly our region’s K-12 students—with an inspiring look at the stars.”
The college celebrated the re-opening of the planetarium on February 26 with a reception to honor the Ferguson family. Area K-12 STEM educators and youth group leaders were also invited to preview the new facility.
Buffalo State’s first planetarium opened in 1964. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the original planetarium in 1978, but public donations—the largest of which came from Whitworth Ferguson Sr. and his family—allowed it to be rebuilt. On November 23, 1982, the rebuilt planetarium was officially renamed for Whitworth Ferguson. Since then, it has served as a cornerstone of the Earth Sciences and Science Education Department and as an asset to the public. Every year, the planetarium hosts several thousand K-12 students and offers public programs that range from a viewing of the seasonal sky to a holiday laser light show.
The new permanent planetarium, which is scheduled to be complete in 2019, will be a focal point of the new Science and Mathematics Complex. Continued support from the Ferguson family will allow for the new 35-foot-wide spherically shaped facility (rendering pictured) to include an opto-mechanical star projector and a digital projector, continuing to extend teaching opportunities beyond astronomy to disciplines as diverse as biology, art, and music.
Until then, the inflatable planetarium will enable the planetarium staff to continue opening a window on the universe. The first public program, starting on March 6, will include a “Buffalo’s Winter Sky” presentation followed by “Oasis in Space,” a program about where water, and possibly life, exists beyond Earth. Future programs will discuss the engineering of solar system missions, updates on encounters with Ceres and Pluto, and extreme stars. All programs will include an interactive portion that presents the stars, planets, and constellations visible at that time of year as well as uncommon celestial events.
“In a planetarium, you’re immersed in the visual experience,” said Kevin Williams, planetarium director and associate professor of earth sciences and science education. “It’s happening all around you, with a narrator acting as your tour guide or telling you a story. It helps audiences connect to the experience.”
Williams, a planetary geologist who is mapping an area on Mars, is excited about also using the planetarium to teach Earth’s geology. “Students can view Earth and visualize its global systems—weather, volcanoes, even the movement of the continents.”
He has also had initial discussions with educators at the Buffalo Zoo about developing a planetarium program about the animal constellations and the migration patterns of animals. In the past, he has collaborated with the Burchfield Penney Art Center and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to demonstrate the link between science and the arts.
“There are so many possibilities. For this planetarium,” he said, “the sky is not the limit!”
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