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NASA Funds a New Solar Odyssey at Carnegie Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center will soon be selling round-trip tickets to the sun.

As part of a new 3-D presentation called SolarQuest: Exploration of the Sun-Earth System, the Science Center will dive into the study of heliophysics, a branch of science that looks into the continuous interactions between the earth and sun.

"As the earth moves through space, it's actually moving through this incredible environment created by the sun — charged particles, electromagnetic fields — and we want to get an experience of that, where the kids understand that we really are linked with the sun all the time," Director of Science and Education John Radzilowicz said.

SolarQuest was chosen from 75 proposals to receive a $764,000 grant from NASA, the largest single grant the Science Center has ever received from the administration.

Once complete, SolarQuest will have two components. A 3D "fly-through" video will be presented at the Buhl Digital Planetarium at the end of 2012. In 2013, the presentation will be adapted into a theater-style traveling school program for students in 4th through 8th grades.

The 45-minute classroom show will employ a live tour guide, large-scale props, costumes, and state of the art visual imagery. The accompanying video presentation will include interviews with NASA scientists about cutting-edge research being done in the field. A portable, full-dome planetarium will seat up to 30 students at a time for separate fly-through shows, and the program will conclude with ten hands-on learning stations.

Building for the Future

One of the primary goals of the project is to ignite students' interests in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM) careers.

"In our region alone, in the next 10 to 15 years, we expect to have about 200,000 STEM jobs that go unfilled. That's a huge problem. We want kids to see this is something they could really do. It's exciting, it's fun work, and it's something they can actually do in our region," Radzilowicz said.

Most schools in Pennsylvania have space science curriculums starting in 4th grade, but many only teach the basics. SolarQuest will enhance these lessons with information about cutting-edge discoveries made in the last few years.

The program will connect with schools using relationships previously established by Science on the Road, the Science Center's out-of-the-classroom initiative, which reaches about 200,000 students in nine states each year. Copies of the 3D show will also be distributed free of charge to 50 other planetariums throughout the country.