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GPI - Ross Barros-Smith, Planetarium Manager, Christa McAuliffe Center  

Dylan Pichnarcik / THE GATEPOST

By Dylan Pichnarcik

Interim Asst. News Editor 

What is your academic and professional background?

My degree is in liberal arts and sciences. Over the course of my life, I have worked both in a professional and volunteer capacity in astronomy, education, and outreach. I have also been a park ranger and a dog walker, and I have tried to keep it varied across my life. 

What is one aspect of your job that is unique? 

In a planetarium, we are combining lots of different technical skill sets and interests. … So regardless of who you are, as a person coming into a space like this, you are going to bring a mixture of different relevant interests and areas of knowledge that different people can apply. … So a planetarium that is given love by the people who perform in it and who run it is going to be different depending on the people who come in. … In this case, I’ll give you a few examples - we have an all-digital system here, so we have plenty of ways to put content and artwork onto the dome. We also have an audio system here so there is a lot of thought and care that can be put in by an audiophile. Also in terms of the content of the planetarium itself, we explore more than just the universe because we have an interest in bringing different experiences for our audiences across the STEM fields and the arts.   

Do you have any projects you are working on?

There are several things that we have in the works! We support the faculty here on campus. Different professors bring in interest groups and different subject matters that they want to explore. … We have an astronomy class that comes in once a semester. We also have classes in health and nutrition sciences coming in and they are going to work on exploring GIS data on the dome. … So, if we have data that we need to look at all over the world, we can put the world on the dome. So turning [the Planetarium] into a system that we can run easily is certainly something that I am working on.   

What improvements were made to the planetarium during the center's remodel?

Architecturally, we stayed mostly the same. The dome above us did not change over the course of the project. However, we now have brand new laser phosphor projectors that are big, bright, and have a ton of contrast. We have a new computer system that powers the video system. There is a computer for each projector that projects onto the dome. Also, we have a new completely digital audio system. We have a subwoofer the size of a refrigerator, so a lot was done on the tech side. Previously, the projectors were situated at the center of the planetarium which would impede audience access to the center of the space. Also, our chairs were bolted in place so we could not move them around. We now have a new modular seating system which may seem small, but the ability to move your chairs around the planetarium is a big deal. You can stand in the center of the dome which you could not do before. 

How well do you feel Christa McAuliffe’s legacy is being represented today? 

I would say that I aspire to do a good job with that. In addition to providing amazing experiences for our audiences, we also have the responsibility of carrying, renewing, and celebrating her memory. For me personally, my life is divided between Framingham - with the work that we do here - and also I live in a rural suburb of Concord, New Hampshire, which was another corner of Christa’s life. I keep running into people who knew her or had some kind of connection to her. I remember once I was standing in a department store in Tilton, New Hampshire, and I got into a conversation with somebody that began about computer monitors. But then he told me about being in school when he was a little tiny guy. He wasn't in any of Christa’s classes, but he knew her, and he said she was really kind to him at a time in his life when he really needed that. So when we talk about legacy here, we don't have to look far to find the personal connections, and that is a weight that we are proud to carry. So that's why I say I aspire to do well with this job. 

Do you have any advice for students? 

I think we have a responsibility to ourselves and other people around us to do a good job at what we do. I think a lot of the way that we get there is by actively putting ourselves out into new and potentially unexpected experiences and interacting with people who might not be the kind of people that we encounter all the time on a college campus. Go out there and have some kind of engagement with the world that you have to put a little bit of sweat into reaching. Because when you do that, you'll have experienced more, you'll know more, and maybe you can even do more.

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