By SARA GIBONEY
KEARNEY – Associate Professor Mariana Lazarova is the new planetarium director at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
The 60-seat UNK Planetarium, which opened in 2010, features a state-of-the-art projector, the Zeiss Skymaster ZKP4. Using fiber optic technology, each star is individually projected on the dome, creating a replica of the night’s sky. Since the functions of the projector are controlled entirely by a computer, it is possible to use the planetarium to navigate to any place or time, whether it is in the past or the future.
The UNK Department of Physics and Physical Science presents educational shows to school groups and private organizations at no charge during the fall and spring semesters at UNK.
“Successfully completing a Ph.D. in the field of astronomy and becoming a professor felt to me like accomplishing a childhood dream, but being a planetarium director brings me a much deeper sense of fulfillment because it gives me the opportunity to share my fascination about the universe with others,” Lazarova said.
“I’m passionate about communicating the intricate beauty of how things work – on Earth and beyond. Hosting outreach events deeply energizes me, because I consider popularizing astronomy, not a job, but a calling. Through public planetarium shows and telescope viewing sessions, I have a chance to share my astronomy passion with a much broader audience, particularly reaching out to young children and fueling their innate childhood fascination with the cosmos.”
Lazarova completed her Ph.D. in physics in 2012 at the University of California-Riverside. She has an interest in quasars in galaxy evolution and their possible connection to ultra-luminous infrared galaxies and starburst galaxies. She uses Keck, Spitzer and Hubble space telescope data to study the nature of a rare class of broad absorption line quasars.
“Mariana has a special passion for doing outreach, especially for our younger audiences,” said Kenneth Trantham, associate professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “I feel that the passion and enthusiasm she carries will show through in the programming that will be offered through the planetarium.”
Lazarova has demonstrated active science outreach with her work organizing NanoDays events on campus. NanoDays is a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering. NanoDays celebrations bring university researchers together with science educators to create learning experiences for children and adults to explore the miniscule world of atoms, molecules and nanoscale forces.
Lazarova plans to offer more frequent public planetarium shows and telescope viewing sessions of Saturn, the moon and the sun.
“In the coming year, I hope to offer our planetarium visitors a cosmic perspective on their lives, and foster a sense of connection to a universe so vast and fascinating, but a universe our busy daily lives often make us forget even exists,” she said.
Events will also be planned for the total solar eclipse, which takes place Aug. 21, 2017.
UNK began offering an astronomy major during the 2014-15 academic year.
Writer: Sara Giboney, 308.865.8529, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Mariana Lazarova, 308.746.8145, email@example.com