Title V STEM grant enhances Adams State science equipment and facilities


New observatory, touch screen, and XRay Defractor

With the Zacheis Planetarium celebrating its 50th year in September, Adams State University is expanding its facilities with a new observatory. The observatory is funded by a five-year, $3.6 million Hispanic Serving Institutions STEM program grant, aimed at improving instruction and outreach in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Awarded in 2011, the grant also supported the recent acquisition of an X-ray Defractometer (XRD) and a touch-screen system for the Edward M. Ryan Geological Museum. Dr. Rob Benson, professor of geology and earth sciences, has devoted his sabbatical this semester to launching the museum-quality educational touch-screen system.

From left: Rob Bond, Porter Hall lab support, and Dr. Rob Benson, professor of geology, review operation of the new x-ray defractor with science students Tavia Carlson, Lea Schiola, and Jorge Vidal.
The XRD, valued at $90,000, is housed in the interdisciplinary STEM lab on Porter Hall's third floor. "This is the most exciting piece of equipment we've ever had," Benson said, adding, "Our students are incredibly excited."

He explained the machine uses x-rays to produce defraction patterns of various materials to aid in their analysis. With applications in chemistry, geology, art, and other fields, it can be used to create a "fingerprint" of a mineral, help identify proteins, and reveal the molecular structure of crystal, for example.

Construction of the new, $120,000 observatory is under way on the north end of campus between the baseball and softball fields and the river. The facility will give students the opportunity to do "real research," using astrophotography, spectroscopy, photometry, supernova observations, astrometry, and lunar and planetary observations.

Assoc. Professor of Physics, Dr. Robert Astolos (right), reviews construction progress on the new observatory.

"We will also continue public viewings and will host school or other groups." Dr. Robert Astalos, associate professor of physics and the director of the planetarium. He added the new observatory will not replace Zacheis, which will still be used for planetarium shows.

"Fifty years ago the trees were much smaller, and the lamp posts were lower and didn't obscure the view at the planetarium." In addition, with 13 telescopes, Zacheis is tight on space.

The observatory will house three permanently mounted, state-of-the-art telescopes capable of fascinating student research projects. It will also house most of the planetarium's current telescopes and will be the site of all public viewing sessions once it's completed. It will also be the home of the ASU astronomy club, which will resume activities this fall.

The observatory will have a telescope room and a warming, or control, room. The roof will roll off to the north, exposing the telescope room to the open sky.