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.

A recent Bioblitz, in which over 100 citizens worked with scientists to identify species at Mason Farm Biological Reserve in central North Carolina.

Perhaps you’ve attended an art festival before.  Or a movie fest.  Or a Greek fest.  Or a beer fest.  But have you ever attended a science festival?  If that thought appeals to you, then 2010 is your year!

Morehead is coordinating the first ever North Carolina Science Festival to be held this Sept. 11 – Sept. 26.  The goal of the Festival is quite simple – to engage more North Carolinians in science.  We’ll do this by highlighting hands-on activities, science talks, exhibits, nature experiences, lab tours and other science-related activities taking place across the state.  Whether you’re a kid or an adult, it’s going to be lots of fun.

Please check the North Carolina Science Festival web site regularly for updates.  If you have a cool idea for the Festival, please let me or Julie Rhodes, Festival coordinator, know.

And if the North Carolina Science Festival leaves you wanting more, join Morehead staff – and about a million other people (literally!) – on the National Mall in DC for the USA Science and Engineering Festival Expo from Oct. 23-24.  Morehead is an official partner of this event.

Go science!

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning. She’s never met a festival she didn’t like.

This month, scientists at CERN will be restarting the largest human machine ever built: the Large Hadron Collider. In honor of this scientific milestone, we invited Dr. Reyco Henning, UNC assistant professor and particle physicist, to our November current science forum.

I can’t speak for the entire audience, but he blew my mind. The scientists studying particle physics have to be some of the most intuitive and creative scientists on the planet. I can only imagine the answer a particle physicist’s child gets when he asks, “Mommy, how did we get here?”

These people spend their lives creating incredibly complex theories to be tested by mind-bogglingly intricate machines in the hopes of understanding the fundamental nature of the Universe. How did it get here? What is the origin of mass? What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy?

Some fun facts from Dr. Henning:

1. Matter is mostly empty space. If Kenan Stadium represented a whole atom, the nucleus would be the size of a golf ball.

2. In the currently accepted model, most physicists estimate that the universe is 73% dark energy, 23% dark matter, 3.6% intergalactic gas, and 0.4% stars.

3. The LHC has had over 3,000 scientists from all over the world work on it at some point.

Henning’s take home message: The LHC will be creating decades of data that will go a long way to confirming, reforming, or rejecting our current conceptions of matter and the Universe. Let’s hope that no more birds or bread get in the way.

Next month: Dr. Kevin Weeks will be talking about his team’s decoding of the an entire HIV genome. See you on December 3rd at 7pm.

Jonathan

ps — In doing a little research, I was unsure about the “largest machine claim” so I did a little google magic and came across this beauty of a blog. The Bagger 288 is no joke.

Jonathan Frederick is Morehead's science program manager.

math imageThere’s something for you and every member of your family at Saturday’s Family Math Game Fest.  Become a life-size game piece on a chess board.  Compete in the triMATHlon.  Construct a house of cards.  Catch a special showing of Flatland.  Investigate lasers.  Build a network.  Simulate the spread of a virus.  Find math in nature…  Doesn’t this sound like fun?

There will many, many activities that will inspire you to think about math – and the connections between math and science – in new ways.

This free event will be held from 11am-3pm.  We’ll have activities for all ages throughout the building.

A special thanks to Chris, Becca, Emily and the UNC Math Club and UNC Women in Mathematics members for supporting this event.

Please join us!

Denise

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning. She's been training for the triMATHlon for weeks - so watch out!

Light Pollution

Light pollution can drastically affect the number of stars visible in the night sky. Click on the picture to enlarge. Picture from http://stellarium.org.

Step outside the average suburban home at night, and you’re likely to see the fluorescent glow of streetlights, soft yellow light streaming from the windows of homes, and security floodlighting. One thing you may not be able to see is the night sky. The light sources around us at night can scatter photons upwards into our atmosphere, creating light pollution that blocks our view of the stars – particularly those stars that are smaller, farther away from Earth, or dimmer. For many urban and suburban dwellers, the only Milky Way they’ll ever see comes in a brown candy wrapper.

Astronomers try to monitor levels of light pollution, because it has serious consequences for scientists’ ability to study our universe (Earth-bound telescopes, just like our eyes, are hampered by light pollution). Astronomers can’t be everywhere in the world, though, so to effectively keep tabs on levels of light pollution around the world, they need the help of ordinary citizens.

From October 9th through the 23rd, you can participate in the Great World Wide Star Count along with thousands of other amateur observers around the world. The idea is simple – everyone will observe the same constellation (if you’re in the Northern hemisphere, you will observe Cygnus) and count the number of stars that are visible. Then, observers will post their results online, where they can also view the project’s results. To participate, simply visit the Star Count website and download an activity guide.

If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between light and astronomy, look for the Science 360 show “Bring the Universe to Light,” coming back on the schedule at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center later this fall.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

Try this at home:

  1. Move the best views of the Aurora Borealis directly overhead.
  2. Plug the Aurora Borealis into a nuclear generator. Set it on max capacity.
  3. Add rock music — lots of it — and crank the volume.

Or, instead, come to Morehead and enjoy the laser show experience the easy way!

I’m pretty sure that Albert Einstein wasn’t thinking about rock music when he told the world about photons in the early 20th century. But we should probably thank Albert anyway. His work was key to the development of laser technology and, by 1959, Gordon Gould had introduced the term LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) to the world.

That was 50 years ago. Since then, lasers have become ubiquitous. They can correct your vision, play your DVDs, entertain your cat and eliminate the need for a razor, along with a bunch of top-secret military and corporate stuff that Albert never imagined. Somewhere in the South, someone is probably experimenting with laser-fried chicken (coming soon to a state fair near you!).

Laser shows at Morehead Planetarium

Laser shows at Morehead Planetarium

Those applications of laser technology are everyday activities. But a laser show is a rare experience, something you might see only at your favorite concert, at the Olympics, at the Super Bowl — and, only for the next nine weeks, at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

Morehead chose the very best shows. Led Zeppelin. U2. Pink Floyd, both “The Wall” and “Dark Side.” There’s a classic rock compilation show, and there’s a special Halloween show that we’ll only offer on Oct. 31 (hint: it’s a thriller!). The technology is amazing, many generations beyond that laser show you saw 20 years ago at the Rush concert. And the Star Theater dome is an incredible arena for every show on the schedule.

These laser shows are stunning. Experience them at Morehead. Thank you, Albert!

Craig Zdanowicz took this photo during laser shows at Morehead on Sept. 18.

Morehead: Celebrating 60 Years of ServiceWe’re celebrating our 60th anniversary in May. The doors to what was then known simply as Morehead Planetarium first opened on May 10, 1949. We had one the first planetariums in the United States and the first in the world on a university campus. (Learn more about our history.) To celebrate 60 years of science and service, we’re going to offer up bargain-basement admission prices the for the anniversary weekend, May 9 and 10, 2009. So make sure to stop by, see a show and help us celebrate a North Carolina icon. Check back in a week or so on our home page for details.

And if you are a Morehead member, make sure to look for the latest edition of Sundial magazine in your snail-mail for an article reflecting on Morehead’s history. I especially love the quotes from designer and Chapel Hill native Alexander Julian who remembers interviewing astronauts at Morehead when he was in junior high.

Have you got any special memories of Morehead? We’d love to hear them.

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

Earth Action Day LogoSaturday (April 18, 2009) is supposed to be a beautiful day. If you’re planning on taking advantage of the weather with a trip to Chapel Hill, check out Earth Action Day. It’s here at Morehead, however, we can’t really take credit for it. The Town of Chaple Hill with help from Briar Chapel and Duke Energy are staging the event. While you’re here, stop by to see a show or visit the gift shop.

After you visit, feel free to come on back here and post a comment.

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

Dragonfly TV LogoIf you missed the celebration last Saturday for Morehead’s appearance on PBS’ “Dragonfly TV,” you missed a good time. But you can still catch the show itself. It airs today (April 3) on WUNC-TV at 4 p.m. The show features some local children (some of whom are Morehead regulars). This episode explores nanotechnology. News & Observer blogger Brooke Cain did a nice post on the show.

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

Earth, Moon and Sun\'s New CoyoteExciting news at Morehead. We’ve received our new portable planetarium and started taking it on the road last week. A grant from the Chatham Foundation helped us purchase the dome and is helping us pilot the portable planetarium program in western North Carolina in Wilkes, Alleghany, Surry and Yadkin counties.

It’s exciting for us to be able to deliver astronomy content with the portable planetarium program now. A lot of teachers won’t even consider bringing their classes to Chapel Hill because it’s too far away for a field trip (Imagine a group of third graders on a bus for four hours each way). This portable planetarium will allow us to take the experience to them.

By the way, you may remember Jay Heinz posting some info about our new production of “Earth, Moon and Sun” a while back. Well, that’s the show that we are featuring in the portable planetarium. Check out the new coyote from the new version. If you’ve ever seen the old version of EMS, you can see that he’s gotten quite the facelift. This new version of EMS will be available in our dome in Chapel Hill after we complete renovations and technological upgrades.

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations


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