For a professor, Hillary Stephens does a pretty good imitation of a spaceship captain.
Stephens is the coordinator of the new Science Dome planetarium at Pierce College, and at the domes public unveiling Saturday she had a roomful of children convinced they were visiting outer space.
"Three. Two. One. Blast-off!" Stephens chanted, and suddenly, inside the new facilitys 38-foot dome, the kids were in orbit, looking down from a starry sky at the earth revolving below, in 360-degree splendor.
The $1.3 million Science Dome has been used by students at Pierce Colleges Fort Steilacoom campus since it was finished in September. But Saturday was the first chance the public has had to see it.
Hundreds of people jammed the campus Rainier Science Building for half-hour shows inside the 58-seat dome, as well as exhibits and demonstrations on a range of subjects including three-dimensional geology, black holes and how to make a creepy substance called slime.
Were doing this because were a community college, and a community college needs to be living within its community, said Michele Johnson, the colleges chancellor. This is a public resource, and we want people to know its open to them.
The new Science Dome is the only planetarium in the South Sound. The state paid for the physical space inside the science building, but Johnson said the dome itself and all the associated apparatus was paid for with proceeds from a public fundraising campaign.
Starting this week, Stephens said, the new planetarium will offer public shows on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons.
Pierce College chemistry professor Megan Hess said the dome is a teaching tool that will be useful for much more than astronomy.
Once you start to see how amazing everything looks in there, it really does inspire you, Hess said. I can see endless possibilities.
Concepts that could be more clearly explained in the dome, Hess suggested, could include the bonding of molecules, DNA stranding, and bridging the gap between chemistry and biology.
Other departments at the college have also made some limited use of the dome. According to Stephens, drama and digital design students recently collaborated on an eight-minute, 360-degree film titled Corella.
It was sort of a three-alien-civilizations-at-war kind of thing, she said. It was pretty schmaltzy.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693