14 Sep 2010
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I met a scientist today. And tomorrow I get to meet another one. So can you.

This week and next week, Morehead is hosting “Out To Lunch” programs for five of its most popular Science 360 topics. It’s a great way to spend your lunch break — bring a sandwich, if you want. You’ll see a presentation about current research, PLUS you’ll meet one of the scientists who are making that research happen.

Ask questions, share your own theories, learn a little more about our world. And it’s free!

Today’s OTL program was “Predicting Severe Weather.” Jonathan Blaes, a meteorologist with the NOAA National Weather Service, gave us a behind-the-scenes look into how airplanes provide key data for everything from daily forecasts to hurricane predictions.

The cross-section of people in the room was interesting, too. There were several home-school families, a group of meteorologists, students and staff members from UNC, some retirees and others who didn’t clearly fit into any of those categories. They asked GREAT questions. And a few of them were interviewed by a newspaper reporter who also attended.

So you missed the first one — but there are four more in the days ahead! So be sure to catch some of these:

  • Learn “Why Antimatter Matters” with physicist Reyco Henning on Wednesday, Sept. 15
  • Take a “Mission to Mars” on Thursday, Sept. 16, with NASA trainee Zena Cardman
  • Explore “Solar Cells” with chemist Wei You on Tuesday, Sept. 21
  • And examine “The Truth Behind 2012” (you know, all those rumors about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world) on Thursday, Sept. 23, with a panel of experts that includes astronomer Dan Reichart, linguist David Mora-Marin and geologist Kevin Stewart

How cool is that? You need to be there. Your friends will be totally impressed with your new FB status update: “having lunch with an eminent researcher.”

It all happens in the Science Stage, which is the small auditorium adjacent to the Morehead Rotunda. Enter through the UNC Visitors Center entrance (facing McCorkle Place), and it’s easy to find. Come meet a scientist! (Sandwich optional.)

“Out To Lunch with Science 360″ is an official North Carolina Science Festival event.

Along with their approach to astronomy, the Mayans also made headlines with a truly revolutionary hot chocolate recipe.

03 Aug 2010
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There’s a popular vampire drama on cable TV that’s built around the concept of synthetic blood. Interesting concept … if you’re a TV vampire. But there’s no such thing in real life, right?

Wrong. Researchers are developing synthetic blood as part of a new wave of nanotechnology-based strategies against disease.

Dr. Joseph DeSImoneHow are these new technologies going to affect the way we treat cancer and other diseases?

Come learn some of the possibilities when Dr. Joseph DeSimone speaks at Morehead’s Current Science Forum on Thursday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. It’s a free program.

If you search for "synthetic blood," Google currently lists 62,900 results.

15 Jul 2010
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We’ve been recruiting museums, parks and other sites all around North Carolina to host activities during the first-ever North Carolina Science Festival, scheduled Sept. 11-26.

So far, the schedule is pretty impressive. We’re aiming for 100 unique activities and events, and we’re getting close.

But we may have just scored the biggest event possible for this year. Adam and Jamie, the hosts of the Discovery Channel’s popular MythBusters TV show, are coming to do a special program at UNC. And people are thrilled.

From the moment we posted the news on our website, Facebook page and Twitter feed, the excitement became building. It’s going to be a big event, so big that it’ll be in the Smith Center (aka basketball heaven, most years) on UNC’s campus.

Tickets are limited. In fact, since the stage set-up is in the middle of the floor, rather than at the end, we’ll only have access to fewer than one-half of the seats. We don’t know if it will sell out, but as a safeguard in case it does, we’ve set up a way for Morehead members to buy tickets early through a special presale opportunity.

If you’re already a Morehead member, you’ll get information about the presale through e-mail (be sure the membership office has your e-mail address!). If you aren’t a member yet, this could be a really good time to join. And you’ll get to enjoy all of the other membership benefits (free admission to fulldome planetarium shows, gift shop discounts and more) throughout the year.

So join. Come see Adam and Jamie. And check out all of the other cool activities during the NC Science Festival. It just keeps getting more amazing!

What myths have you busted lately? (Keep it family-friendly, please!)

30 Jun 2010
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We’ve been doing Current Science Forums at Morehead for nearly three years now. The mission is simple: Encourage discussion about current science events and research in the news, led by a scientist or comparable expert in the field.

But I don’t think we’ve ever had a more timely topic than we have for July: “Oil Rigged: Quantifying the BP Oil Spill.”

You’ve seen the images from below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, and you’ve seen the news coverage — scary stuff. And it can be hard to decipher what’s fact and what’s fiction.

Luckily, we’ve got a lot of experts at UNC who can help us understand the issues more clearly. One of those experts, Dr. Richard McLaughlin, will lead our Current Science Forum on Thursday, July 1, at 7 p.m. He’ll help us understand why some oil rises to the surface and other oil remains trapped underwater, challenging attempts to measure the impact of oil spills.

If you’re interested in learning more, we hope you’ll join us. Like each monthly Current Science Forum, the July 1 presentation is free. It’ll be in Morehead’s Banquet Hall (second floor, east end of buiding), and it’s informal.

Believe it or not, killer whales are among the animals that live in the Gulf of Mexico. They are found only in deeper water (600 feet or more in depth).

15 Jun 2010
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If you read this blog regularly, you know that Denise Young announced the North Carolina Science Festival here. In the weeks since her announcement, it seems like a million things have happened! Here are the biggest things:

There’s a NC Science Festival website

  • … that lists dozens of NC Science Festival events …
  • … all over the state, from Asheville to the Outer Banks …
  • … and you can search the list by date, location, target age group or other characteristics.

And there’s a Facebook page where you can …

  • … meet other people who like the NC Science Festival (and science in general!) …
  • … and get updates on the newest additions to the events list …
  • … and discuss the events you attend (tag photos, too!).

But that’s not all! You can also …

  • … follow the NC Science Festival on Twitter
  • … and check out the NC Science Festival blog
  • … and keep checking for a super-big announcement in early July! (It’ll rock your science world.)

Let’s face it, if you don’t keep an eye on the NC Science Festival news, you’re going to miss all the fun Sept. 11-26, 2010. So stay connected!

You gotta check out the event list -- everything from winery tours (yes, that's science -- chemistry and horticulture!) to "Snaketacular."

It’s the height of spring field trip season at Morehead.

Most of the school buses in our parking lot traveled one or two hours to visit us, but groups come from all over the state. Last week, kids from Manteo came to Morehead. A Cherokee Boys Club charter bus makes an appearance almost every year. It’s fun to welcome them to the planetarium, our favorite state treasure.

For the kids, part of the fun is checking out Morehead’s gift shop after their planetarium show. It’s stocked with educational books and science-themed toys, of course. But their favorite item, the one that our gift shop manager continually has to restock, is rock candy. (If you’re patient, you can make it at home with this science experiment. But if you don’t want to wait seven days, Morehead’s your source for instant gratification.)

What else is really popular with the kids? Anything gooey and icky, like Mars Mud and Galactic Goo. Glow-in-the-dark stuff. (Especially cool: bandanas that have constellations printed on them in glow-in-the-dark paint.)

moodringAnd mood rings. Lots and lots of mood rings go home with Morehead visitors of all ages.

Did you have a mood ring when you were a kid? Mood rings feature a “stone” that turns colors — black, green, blue. Theoretically, the colors reflect your mood, but actually it’s an indication of your body temperature. There are liquid crystals that are sensitive to heat inside the “stone,” and the position of those crystals affects the wavelength of light. That’s how mood rings change color.

Believe it or not, NASA is using that same “technology” in its search for undiscovered planets. Apparently, the combination of liquid crystals and zero gravity result in better telescope viewing.

And that’s not all. Scientists are exploring the value of color-changing crystals in measuring the impact of bomb blasts in war zones. This development could provide a better understanding of how people living and working in those zones may have been affected, resulting in better medical treatment for them.

You can’t do that with rock candy.

Ron Risch, Morehead's gift shop manager, just checked his records -- 1,433 visitors bought mood rings last year!

When I was a kid, I had a junior detective wristband. (Maybe you did, too.) It was colorful and plastic, the kind of toy you’d find in a cereal box. And it had a tiny plastic magnifying glass, because every junior detective needs to be able to see tiny things in detail. That’s how you solve mysteries.

I magnified ants. And flower pollen. And feathers. I magnified almost everything I could find. And the close-up views from that tiny magnifying glass offered some amazing lessons about the world. (Wow — butterfly wings have scales!)

In nanotechnology, scientists do the same thing, but they have much better toys.

Nanotechnology is the study of things at the atomic and molecular levels. Very, very, very tiny things. Scientists use specialized microscopes and other laboratory instruments for nanotechnology research. They’re solving mysteries.

nanotubeTake this model of a nanotube, for example. It represents one way that carbon atoms can be structured. Nanotubes are very strong, maybe one hundred times as strong as steel. They’re very tiny, just a fraction of the width of a human hair. They conduct heat and electricity. Scientists are still learning about the properties of carbon nanotubes and about the ways we can use these structures.

If you’re curious, you’ll have a rare opportunity this weekend to take a behind-the-scenes peek into nanotechnology research on the UNC campus. Morehead is hosting NanoDays on Saturday, March 27.

You can learn more about nanotechnology with hands-on activities for the family. Discover where you can find examples of nanotechnology in your own home. Tour research labs with scientists from the UNC Department of Physics and Astronomy (that’s where the cool research toys — I mean, laboratory instruments — live).

It’s fun, and it’s free. Come check out NanoDays.

Junior detective wristbands might be the coolest cereal box toy ever.

This all began with Jesse Richuso and Joe Meno.

Jesse was a UNC student in 2004. He worked at Morehead, and he won a student fellowship to create a program he called “LEGO Lab.” Do you remember it? LEGO Lab was based in the room where the “Zoom In: Science at the Extremes” exhibit is now. On Saturdays that year, Morehead visitors were able to experience the LEGO Lab and create some amazing projects.

Joe heard about LEGO Lab, and that caught his interest. Joe was active with a group called NC LUG — that stands for “LEGO Users Group.” Joe and his friends were adults who had maintained, even expanded, their childhood fascination with LEGOs. Joe called us and asked if there was any way he and his friends could exhibit some of their larger projects at Morehead, as part of the LEGO Lab.

There really wasn’t room to exhibit LEGO models alongside the LEGO Lab activities. But we knew that the LEGO Lab had been really popular with Morehead visitors, and it was hard to resist Joe’s boundless enthusiasm for all things LEGO, so we agreed that we would set up some tables in the Morehead Banquet Hall for the NC LEGO Users Group to exhibit some of their favorite models. We also worked with Joe to plan a LEGO model building contest, using basic LEGO bricks that Joe provided.

We set a date — the first Saturday in February 2005 — and named our event “LEGO-palooza.” The LUG members brought dozens and dozens of models. Joe brought a huge plastic tub filled with LEGO bricks for the contest, and we spread them on a sheet on the floor, with a single table nearby where children could place their entries in the contest. We didn’t really know how many people to expect, but we thought maybe 150 people might stop by during the day. Boy, were we wrong.

A News & Observer reporter mentioned the event in an article about the “Magic Tree House Space Mission” planetarium show. It was just one sentence. Yet on Saturday morning there were so many people in the LEGO-palooza entrance lobby, waiting to enter the Banquet Hall, that they nearly trampled UNC student worker Davida Vinson as she opened the doors.

They filled the aisles. They surrounded every exhibit table. And they kept coming.

The LEGO Users Group members were so busy answering questions and keeping watch over their exhibits that they never had time to take a lunch break. The first table filled with contest entries, so we set up another table. And another. And another. We ran out of LEGO bricks soon after 2 p.m. — the children had built 500 models to enter in the contest, all within about three hours.

By the time we closed the doors, we were exhausted — and excited. Clearly, we had a winner. In fact, I think that LEGO-palooza was responsible for the first blog entry ever posted by anyone about any Morehead activity (Paul Jones blogged about his visit with his son Tucker).

Fast forward to 2010. A lot has changed since that first year. LEGO-palooza is now a two-day event that routinely draws 1,200 or more visitors. We’ve added new activities (BrickFilms!) and dropped others (“farvel” — Danish for “goodbye” — to the contest and the LEGO play space). We’ve experimented with LEGO “classes” for families, with timed tickets and with age-group-specific activities. Lesson learned: Keep it simple, and focus on the exhibits.


And so we have. If you’ve been to LEGO-palooza, you’ve seen an amazing array of LEGO models over the years: Sabrina and Signe Gravett’s “Star Wars” collection, Mike Walsh’s trains, Joe Evangelista’s spaceport, Carin and Jane Proctor’s neighborhoods, Cyndi Bradham’s castle, Jennifer Poole’s “Hogwarts” collection, Taylor Poole’s “Batman” collection, Joe Meno’s robotics demonstrations and many more. (My personal favorite remains a kinetic LEGO machine that Rafe Donohue exhibited several years ago.)

Some of the LUG members have joined forces (and their impressive supplies of LEGO bricks and other goodies) to create huge original environments, ranging from space stations to amusement parks to western frontier forts. The NC LUG membership has added new members with its high visibility at LEGO-palooza, and LUG friends based in other states have traveled to Chapel Hill to exhibit their models, too.

That brings us to LEGO-palooza 6 — mark your calendars now! It’ll be Saturday, March 13 (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Sunday, March 14 (1-4 p.m.). It’s free, as always, and it’s a great adventure for children ages 4 and older, accompanied by parents or caregivers. No tickets, no reservations — just be here.

And as for the guys who instigated this phenomenon? Jesse’s now in grad school in Georgia. Although his LEGO Lab is gone, the LEGO camps that came from it are still popular on Morehead’s Summer Science Camps schedule. And Joe has turned his love for LEGOs into a career as editor of BrickJournal magazine. He passed the coordinator’s torch to Carin Proctor for a few years, and now Joe Evangelista is taking a turn as torchbearer.

If you’ve never seen LEGO-palooza before now, make this the year. And if you’ve been here before — well, if you love LEGOs, there really isn’t any other place you want to be on March 13-14.

It's not just a toy, it's an addiction.

The secret is revealed!

nextgiantleap_lowWe’ve installed a fulldome digital video system that will completely, radically, astonishingly change the way you experience planetarium shows. And you’ll be able to experience the immersive environment of fulldome digital video at Morehead beginning Feb. 5, 2010.

This is our Next Giant Leap — our biggest change in 40 years. And we thank GlaxoSmithKline for making this possible with a generous $1.5 million gift to Morehead. We’ve renamed the Star Theater to commemorate this change; it’s now the GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater.

Be one of the first to check it out, because you’ll want to tell all of your friends about the new fulldome shows. There’s “Astronaut,” from the National Space Centre. “Black Holes: Journey into the Unknown,” from Museum Victoria. And a new fulldome version of an original Morehead production, “Earth, Moon and Sun.”

So what’s different about fulldome? There’s an app — I mean, a Top Ten List for that:

  1. New Shows

    In addition to the multimedia shows, there are changes to “Carolina Skies,” too. Now you can view the universe from any point in space, even beyond our solar system!
  2. Super HD and Better Sight Lines

    Fulldome’s 4000×4000 pixel resolution is like high definition on steroids. And the theater seating has been rearranged, so every seat faces the “sweet spot” of the dome.
  3. Surround Sound

    Yeah, 5.1 channel digital surround sound, baby!
  4. Immersion

    This is the numero uno characteristic of fulldome — the sensation that you are surrounded by the planetarium show, right in the middle of things. (Which is good until you get chased by the dinosaur in “Earth, Moon and Sun.”)
  5. More Science

    Analog planetarium projectors are great at projecting astronomy and space images, but they aren’t so good at projecting images from oceanography and medicine and other science disciplines. Guess what? Fulldome is great at projecting all kinds of science images! So as Morehead adds new shows, you’ll see more science disciplines reflected in show content.
  6. Less Equipment

    Guess how many pieces of equipment Morehead needed with its analog system? More than 50 different projectors (slide and video) in addition to the Zeiss star projector, plus dozens of custom-built special effects — at least several hundred pieces of equipment. That’s no longer a problem. The fulldome system has two projectors and an array of graphics computers that replace all of that analog stuff. This is a very good thing.
  7. Revenue

    Since fulldome is based on universal standards, the shows Morehead produces to use here can be used just as easily by any other fulldome planetarium. In fact, the new version of “Earth, Moon and Sun” has been leased to four planetariums in the U.S. already.
  8. Fresh Schedules

    Morehead can lease shows FROM other planetariums as well as TO other planetariums. So you’ll see new shows on the schedule more often.
  9. Mobility

    Can’t come to Morehead? Morehead comes to you! Morehead’s new PLANETS Portable Planetarium Program uses fulldome technology, too, so it can bring fulldome shows to schools that are too far from Morehead to plan a field trip here.
  10. Brand Identity

    We’ve been producing planetarium shows for years. Now, we’re going international. Planetariums in Brazil and Hong Kong have already asked about leasing Morehead’s first original fulldome production, and more original Morehead shows are in the works.

That all sounds wonderful, but we know you’ll want to see this for yourself. So we’ll be looking for you soon. Come experience fulldome digital video, Morehead’s Next Giant Leap!

Kudos to Laura Walters for creating the image Morehead is using with its "Next Giant Leap" theme.

Replace the mosquitos with microscopes, the campfires with chemistry, the tents with technology … and you’ve got Summer Science Camps at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center!

In June, July and August, Morehead offers one-week, half-day camps for children in grades K–8. campEach camp is filled with fun, science-based activities, with themes like “Aquatic Addresses,” “Dinosaur Detectives,” “Test Pilots” and “CSI: Chapel Hill.”

For middle school students, there’s even a full-day option called “SciVentures,” an intensive program that combines on-site activities with field experiences. For 2010, “SciVentures” will focus on emergency medical science, with behind-the-scenes guidance from UNC Health Care and UNC School of Education.

The camps are fun, educational and very popular. Morehead members are eligible for early registration, and they save $15 on the cost of each camp (so if you aren’t already a member, this is a great time to join). Members at the “Lunar Level” even qualify for concierge registration!

So how — and when — can you get all the details about 2010 Summer Science Camps?

If you’re a Morehead member, check your mailbox for the winter issue of Sundial magazine — it’s scheduled to be mailed on Jan. 4. You’ll find the camp registration guide inside Sundial. Within a few weeks, you’ll also receive a letter with registration instructions (the letter will be mailed on Jan. 18).

Not a member? You’ll find all of the information you need about Summer Science Camps posted on Morehead’s Web site, beginning Jan. 11.

Morehead’s online registration system opens for members on Feb. 8 and for the general public on Feb. 15, so you have plenty of time to plan.

Gee, a s'more would taste good right now.