The Parkland College Blog

Staerkel Planetarium to host Kaler Science Lecture on Nuclear Energy

Nuclear engineer Dr. Katy Huff to present "Atomic Advancements"

Parkland College's William M. Staerkel Planetarium will feature nuclear energy research as the subject of the next edition of the James B. Kaler Science Lecture Series on Friday, November 6 at 7 p.m.
 
Dr. Katy Huff, assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering, and Blue Waters Assistant Professor with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at UIUC, will be presenting "Atomic Advancements" on Friday. The lecture will be held on Zoom and is offered free to the public.
 
The energy density of nuclear fuel is unmatched by any other fuel source. Conventional nuclear reactors supply most of Illinois's electricity and over 80% of its carbon-free electricity. These devices have an unparalleled record of safety, reliability, and sustainability, and the next generation of reactors incorporate decades of experience, research, and technological advancements which enable walk-away safety, meltdown-proof fuels, and flexible integration with renewables. Dr. Huff's talk will demystify transformative new reactors, fuels, and recycling technologies ready to support a clean energy future worldwide.
 
Dr. Huff earned her B.A. in Physics from the University of Chicago and her Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Before joining the University of Illinois in 2016, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow in both the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium and the Berkeley Institute for Data Science. She now leads the Advanced Reactors and Fuel Cycles Research Group.
 
The Staerkel Planetarium is focused on virtual programs to schools, private groups, and to the public until the dome can reopen. The planetarium staff will present Fall Prairie Skies on the same Zoom meeting after the conclusion of the Kaler lecture at 8 p.m. This show is an interactive tour of the night sky, including a focus on satellites and space junk. For a full show schedule and for links to the Zoom meetings, visit the planetarium website or email planetarium@parkland.edu.
 

Staerkel Planetarium debuts free virtual Kaler Science Lectures in October

Series begins with "Looking at the Night Sky with Artificially Intelligent Eyes" on October 2

Parkland College's William M. Staerkel Planetarium will be resuming the James B. Kaler Science Lecture Series virtually this fall, beginning with Dr. Gautham Narayan's "Looking at the Night Sky with Artificially Intelligent Eyes," on Friday, October 2 at 7 pm on Zoom, free to the public.

Dr. Gautham Narayan, assistant professor at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Illinois, earned a B.S. from Illinois Wesleyan and a Ph.D. at Harvard. Before joining the University of Illinois in 2019, he was a postdoctoral scholar at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and was the Barry M. Lasker Data Science Fellow at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Wide-field optical survey telescopes are now producing too many observations for humans to look through. Buried in these petabytes of pixels are rare and exotic sources like kilonovae, explosions which can be caused by the mergers of neutron stars. Discovering these events is now akin to looking for a needle among thousands of haystacks.

To cope with the deluge of data, astrophysicists employ artificial intelligence (AI). Dr. Narayan will cover how the same algorithms that underlie driverless cars, voice recognition, and your bank’s ability to detect fraudulent transactions is now telling us about the variable sky, and ultimately the nature of dark energy and the fate of the Universe.

The Staerkel Planetarium is offering virtual programs while the dome is closed to the public. Following the Kaler lecture, the planetarium will present Fall Prairie Skies at 8 pm on the same Zoom meeting. This live-narrated tour of the night sky includes a focus on Mars, which is getting brighter in the evening. For a full show schedule and for links to the Zoom meetings, visit the planetarium website or email planetarium@parkland.edu.
 

Planetarium Announces Virtual Lecture Series for 2020-2021

William M. Staerkel Planetarium will continue Kaler Lecture Series virtually

The William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College is pleased to announce the newest lineup of speakers in the James B. Kaler Science Lecture Series, which will continue virtually this year due to the pandemic. 


For more than 25 years, the planetarium has served as a conduit for the local research community to share its knowledge with the general public, and this year will only be slightly different as lectures move to Zoom. Talks occur on the first Friday of the months classes are in session at 7 p.m., and admission will be free.
 
The fall lectures will kick off with UIUC Astronomy Professor Dr. Gautham Narayan speaking about astrophysicists using AI to manage the tremendous amount of data collected by wide-field optical survey telescopes. In November, Katy Huff of UIUC's Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering will present on what's new in nuclear energy.

As we look into the new year, enjoy stunning spring photography from Jeffrey Bryant of Wolfram Alpha, LLC and hear about some of the winged friends we have flying over Central Illinois. Caleb Brooks (UIUC, Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering) will discuss "micro nuclear reactors" based on his work in the Multiphase Thermo-fluid Dynamics Laboratory. 
 
Due to the pandemic, some information might be subject to change. Visit the Kaler Lecture Series page to stay up to date on show listings, or call the show hotline at 217/351-2446. For more information about the Planetarium, visit their website or contact them at 217/351-2567. 

Girl and Boy Scout Merit Badge Workshops at Planetarium

Staerkel Planetarium will conduct two interactive Scout workshops this spring

The William M. Staerkel Planetarium will conduct two interactive Merit Badge workshops for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts this spring. 


Girl Scout Space Science Adventurer Badge workshop:

  • Thursday, May 21, 7–8:30 p.m.

  • $4 per Scout

Boy Scout Astronomy Merit Badge workshop:

  • Wednesday, May 27, 7–9:30 p.m.

  • $5 per Scout

Please note that these sessions are workshops, not just a show, so scouts must be ready to work! Scouts must bring a pencil or pen and a flashlight covered with red plastic/cellophane. Scouts will receive a booklet based on requirements. The workshop will cover the badge requirements, and scouts will submit the completed work booklet to their scout office to receive the badge.

Advanced registration is required. The registration deadline is a week prior to the chosen workshop (May 14 for Girl Scouts, May 20 for Boy Scouts). There will be no registration taken at the door. There must be a minimum number of registrations to conduct the workshop; in the case of cancellation, refunds will be issued. 

To register, click here. Complete one form per Scout and leader. For more information, call 217/351-2567 or visit parkland.edu/planetarium

PRECS Funded For Three More Years

PRECS has been funded for another three-year cycle

A summer science experience for US community college students at Parkland College has received National Science Foundation funding for a new three-year cycle.

The 10-week PRECS program, or Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students, will host 10 students for each summer during 2020-2022. During this new cycle, the student stipend has been increased to $6,000 for the 10-week program.

The program involves a boot camp at Parkland College in Champaign that prepares students for the research immersion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. PRECS focuses on phenotypic plasticity, the phenomenon of a single genotype producing multiple phenotypes depending on environment, and includes research areas as diverse as the interaction between genotype and ozone pollution on maize, the effect of environmental stress on neuroanatomy, and the interactions of genes and environment on fish behavior. 

Originally funded by a three-year grant (#1559908/1559929) from the National Science Foundation, PRECS ran during the summers of 2017-2019. During this time, PRECS hosted a total of 32 students from across the country (IL, NJ, MA, MD, MO, CO, NC, PA, CA), including six Parkland students. PRECS participants have gone on to continue their academic career at their home community colleges and to transfer to four-year institutions. Two PRECS participants are currently pursuing graduate programs, according to Dr. Britt Carlson, program director and chemistry associate professor at Parkland.

"Many PRECS participants secured research positions after completing PRECS, and in three cases, these research positions were in their PRECS host labs," Carlson said. "Participants have attended national conferences and presented their research." Scientific posters created during PRECS for the IL Summer Research Symposium and videos of past participants can be found at https://spark.parkland.edu/precs_research/

Parkland alum and PRECS 2017 student Elliot Ping said of the program, "The great thing about being there full-time is that you really have the opportunity to immerse yourself...You're really involved in everything and you're...getting the hands-on experience too."

PRECS is now accepting applications for Summer 2020; the deadline to participate is March 1. Eligible students: 

  • must be currently enrolled at a community college

  • must be US citizens or permanent residents

  • have completed General Biology I and General Chemistry I (preferred)

Underrepresented groups are encouraged to apply. Preferred students will earn a $6,000 stipend. Housing/food allowances, as well as travel allowances (if needed) are also available. Application materials and more information are available at https://lnkd.in/eg4q_Wi.

As advice to students considering whether or not to apply, Kat Cortez of PRECS 2019 says, "Don't hesitate because you learn so much about yourself and your ability. You're capable of so much more than you think you are. And I think that's what this experience taught me."

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