Five years ago the success of Carnegie Science Center’s planetarium show Venus—Earth’s Fiery Twin started a national trend. Educators and schools loved it,  it sold 20 copies, and was shown by the Air and Space Museum in Washington. Soon another show, Cosmic Perceptions, found international buyers in France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and was selected by the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

By 1998 eight different shows were being used at 300 locations, and shows created by Carnegie Science Center could be seen in high schools, universities, museums of arts and sciences, planetaria, and discovery centers everywhere from Altoona, Pennsylvania and Reno, Nevada, to Athens, Greece, and Copenhagen, Denmark. The most popular show of all is Through the Eyes of Hubble, which has been translated into 13 languages and is seen at 130 locations.

Planetarium shows now go beyond astronomy—the external universe—and can probe the internal universe of the human body. Journey into the Living Cell takes you into the domain of the human building blocks, the cells, and uses interactive paddles to let you vote on what to do next in the exploration. It was the first show developed with Carnegie Mellon scientists.
Planetarium producer James Hughes says the next biology-based show being developed with Carnegie Mellon is Tracking the Human Brain. This amazing trip is like a roller-coaster ride through the human eye into the workings of the brain.  Scheduled to open in the fall of 1999, the “brain show” is under consideration for the USA pavilion at Expo2000 in Hanover, Germany.

During the holiday season The Christmas Star demonstrates the techniques which make Pittsburgh-produced shows so popular. The audience confronts a scientific problem, explores the possible answers, and then by interactive technology votes its own answer. Was the Star of Bethlehem a miracle, or is there a scientific explanation? Could the bright light have come from a comet, a meteor, a planet, or a conjunction of planets? A lot of viewers see the options at Carnegie Science Center, and decide it was a miracle.

How did Carnegie Science Center become prominent so fast in the field of advanced planetarium technology and education? Alliances with Carnegie Mellon University, funding by the National Science Foundation and creative partnerships with other institutions and agencies have been critical. Buhl Planetarium is technologically advanced beyond most other planetaria, and has set a standard for excellence in the current, expanding marketplace of similar domed theaters. The creativity of Buhl staff and their scientific consultants has been essential—a good example of cooperation and pooled resources in Pittsburgh’s close-knit scientific community.

When these shows are purchased, the buyer gets a video laser disc, an audio sound track, slides, and an instruction manual.  The new owner adds the show to the exhibition repertoire, and in some cases updates the show if the Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium makes changes on the basis of the latest scientific information.

—R. Jay Gangewere


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