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Origin of Structure in the Universe
A Cosmology Short Course for Planetarium Staff

Presented by the Center for Cosmological Physics

September 26 – 28, 2003
at the Center for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago
and
Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum

Follow-Up Session: October 22, 2003
at the GLPA Meeting, Cleveland, Ohio

An N-body/hydro simulation of galaxy formation at high redshift
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INSTRUCTORS:
John Carlstrom
Sean Carroll *
Jennifer Chen **
Juan Collar
Joshua Frieman
Wayne Hu
Rocky Kolb
Andrey Kravtsov
     Richard Kron
Randall H. Landsberg *
Angela Olinto
Clem Pryke
Mark SubbaRao
Simon Swordy
Michael Turner
Bruce Winstein

* Course Directors   ** Graduate Assistant

INTRODUCTION
The Center for Cosmological Physics (CfCP) offered an historic three-day cosmology short course for planetarium staff designed to enliven current planetarium programming by incorporating modern cosmology.

This successful course serves as a model for a new type of professional development, one that connects forefront research and informal education. Key to this connection were scientists actively engaged in cosmological research who acted as course instructors. Their involvement brought an incredible richness to the course including a deep and current understanding of the field, tools for communicating this science, and the intangible excitement of discovery. The participants reported learning a tremendous amount of cosmology, and more importantly, that they plan to translate their experiences into programming for their visitors (see Evaluations).

Forty-six (46) planetarians (see Participants) attended "Origin of Structure in the Universe." They came from as far away as Japan and from planetariums of all sizes (e.g., from inflatable domes to the Hayden Planetarium).

The course was a mixture of lectures, hands-on and computer laboratories, tours of research facilities, and question and answer/discussion sections. (see Schedule and Photos). Participants were also provided with resources to use back at their home institutions. These resources included short movies and electronic versions of all lectures (see Talks). A follow-up session, lead by CfCP Director Bruce Winstein, was held at the 2003 annual Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) meeting in Cleveland. As a subsidiary objective of the short course was to establish a collaborative network, the CfCP also continues to stay in touch with the participants via e-mail and the Internet.

Prior to undertaking such a new venture the Center conducted a multi pronged needs assessment. The needs assessment included presenting a paper on the issue of current cosmological research in planetariums at the 2002 GLPA Meeting (see Cosmology at Planetaria), a survey of the GLPA executive committee, and many individual conversations with members of the planetarium and research communities. The collective responses clearly indicated that the interest was strong and that the need for such a course was great. Especially notable findings were the current lack of cosmology content in planetarium programming (beyond mention of the Big Bang), and the lag between the many recent advances in our understanding of the universe and what is portrayed in planetarium shows. The assessment also revealed that there are very limited professional development opportunities for planetarium staff, and strongly suggested the need for future professional development programs. Upon completion, the CfCP assessed the course itself via a participant survey. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive — for example, 91% felt that the course would directly affect the contents of their planetarium shows (see Evaluations for more details).

By all accounts, the "Origin of Structure in the Universe" short course was highly successfully and will have repercussions well beyond the three-day event. Within a month of the course, participants had already reported big and small changes in their programming and grander plans for the future. These plans include a committee working on a collective cosmology program for the GLPA. In addition, the center continues to develop follow-up activities to nurture the new programming, collaborations, and partnerships seeded by the course. Thus the primary goal of this course, "incorporating modern cosmology into planetarium programming," has been and will be met. In a broader context, the success of this course suggests it as a model for future professional development programs for planetarium staff, particularly because it demonstrates that it is possible to connect the often distant realms of informal education and modern scientific research.

A special thanks to our principal collaborators: the Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) and the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum.


 

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