ECU teaches with Starlab van

Welcome aboard the Starlab! Our destination is the universe and beyond,” is a greeting planned for school youngsters, this spring, when they step inside the new mobile planetarium from East Carolina University.

The astronomy system, called “Starlab,” is an inflatable dome with a computer guided star projector inside. It was a gift to ECU from Texasgulf of Aurora, N.C., a natural resources company, mining and producing phosphate-based products in North Carolina. “Texasgulf has contributed to the “Starlab” to help improve science teaching in our area schools,” said Lynn A. Smith, director of the Science and Mathematics Alliance Eastern Partnership at ECU. Smith said his office will train public school science teachers to use the system and will loan it to schools in a 14-county region.

Manufactured by Learning Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., the “Starlab” is an air-inflated dome, 16 feet in diameter. When set up in a classroom or gym, it resembles a large igloo. Inside the dome, there is seating room for 30 adults. The heart of the system, the star projector, is a computer controlled planetarium. The device will project a variety of images including views of deep space, mythological constellations, and the planet Earth. It can also display a biological cell magnified one million times.

“The lab will be used to teach physics, plate tectonics, and biology as well as astronomy,” said Smith. “It will be a tremendous asset to elementary and secondary classrooms in the area. We are delighted with Texasgulf’s interest in science teaching and grateful for their willingness to purchase the system for our schools,” he said.

The “Starlab” will be available for loan to teachers in 14 eastern counties including the counties served by the Science and Mathematics Alliance Eastern Partnership. The counties are Beaufort, Hyde, Dare, Washington, Tyrrell, Martin, Pitt, Lenoir, Wayne, Greene, Pamlico, Craven, Jones and Carteret. Smith said it will be several weeks before the equipment is available for loan. He plans to demonstrate the “Starlab” for the first time, March 5 – 6, at the Eastern North Carolina Student Challenge ‘93 at Washington High School in Washington, N.C.