The Parkland College Blog

Parkland Students, Alumni to Present Research at Science Talk

"Nature and Nurture" to feature environmental impacts on genes

Current and former Parkland College students who took part in a scientific research program last summer will present their findings during the first of the season's James B. Kaler Science Lectures at the William M. Staerkel Planetarium next month.

Their talk, "Nature and Nurture: Examining How Diverse Organisms Adapt to Changes in their Everyday Environment," will take place Friday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. Admission is $2 at the door with Friends of the Staerkel Planetarium admitted free of charge.

The students conducted research as part of the 2019 Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students (PRECS) program, a collaboration between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Parkland College and funded by the National Science Foundation. Phenotypic plasticity is a phenomenon in which changes in physical appearance or behavior occur in genes in response to environmental conditions.

Current Parkland student Isiah Ramos investigated the link between respiratory infections and the worsening of multiple sclerosis symptoms. Erinn Dady, a Parkland graduate and a current UIUC student, studied how plants responded to caterpillars eating their leaves and how their responses may be affected by the root associations they share with fungi. Parkland graduate Justina Lee, also a current UIUC student, monitored the impact of THC on rat behavior, specifically on their anxiety levels.

Following the presentation, the Staerkel Planetarium will show the fulldome feature, "Dark Matter Mystery" at 8 p.m. Tickets for regular programs range from $5 to $6 per person. For a full schedule, call the show hotline at 217/351-2446 or visit

[Image: Parkland students and alumni present research as part of Kaler Science Series.]

Area youth ages 14 to 17 are invited to participate in fun, hands-on forensic science exploration at Parkland College next month.

The CSI Experience, an eight-day summer camp, will run June 17–27 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Note: Parkland College will be closed on Fridays during this time).

This camp is designed as an immersive mystery: During the two weeks, camp participants will assume the identity of a crime scene investigation character and will work with real forensic experts, law enforcement, and media professionals to collect and analyze evidence, find the culprit, and inform the public. Attending youth receive real-world experience with equipment used in the forensic and media fields. Lunch will be provided daily for camp participants.

Parkland’s CSI Experience will culminate with a scavenger hunt for missing artifacts and the presentation of the participants’ findings. Parents will be invited to attend the presentations, held on June 27 at 1:30 p.m. in Room D244.

Students turning age 14 by Sept. 1 are eligible to enroll in the CSI Experience. To register a student by June 12, or to learn more about the experience, visit or call 217/351-2235.

Staerkel Planetarium Celebrates Apollo 11

Summerlong displays and presentations mark the 1969 Moon landing

On July 21, 1969, at 10:56:15 p.m. EDT, Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon with the now famous words: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

The William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College will celebrate the 50th anniversary of that Apollo 11 Moon mission with the following displays and presentations.

"Many Inspired Steps" Exhibit
"Many Inspired Steps" tells the story of the Moon mission: the mythology of Icarus flying to close to the Sun and his wax wings melting; the conquest of the air in the 20th century; the conquest of space; of course, the triumph of Apollo 11; and much more. The pictorial display was organized by Thomas A. Lesser (who has donated the exhibition) and is distributed by Audio Visual Imagineering, Inc. (which has donated the distribution of the exhibition to the Staerkel Planetarium). It is displayed on the wall in the hallway leading to the M-wing corridor.
Saturn V, Apollo, Moon/Earth Displays
Visitors can view a Lego model of the Saturn V rocket (on loan from the Thomas-Stagg family), a Moon globe showing all six Apollo landing sites, and a to-scale model of the Earth and Moon.
Apollo 11 Memories Bulletin Board
A bulletin board where visitors can share their memories of that evening in July, 1969, is available for use.
The public is also invited to email their remembrances of the Apollo 11 moment as well. Send memories to Memory submissions should include a first name and where that person was living in 1969; planetarium staff will post them on the memory bulletin board (minus any contact information).
"Summer Prairie Skies"
June 14–September
The annual planetarium show "Summer Prairie Skies" will include a simulation of the final eight minutes of the first lunar landing including actual audio from the lunar module. In addition, the entire dome will be turned into the command module control panel. "Summer Prairie Skies" premieres at 7 p.m. on June 14 and will be presented each Friday through September. Admission is $6 for adults and $5 for students, seniors, and kids under the age of 12.
"Dawn of the Space Age"
June 7–August
Beginning Friday, June 7, the planetarium will premiere the fulldome movie "Dawn of the Space Age." From the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, to the magnificent lunar landings and privately-operated space flights, patrons will be immersed and overwhelmed with this accurate historic reconstruction of humankind's first forays into space. Admission is $6 for adults and $5 for students, seniors, and kids under the age of 12. Special doubleheader rates apply.

  • Retiring Staerkel Planetarium Director Dave Leake will take a look back at the mission of Apollo 11 in a talk for the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society during its regular meeting on July 11 at 7 p.m. The public is invited free of charge. 

  • See the Apollo 11 landing site in the "Sea of Tranquility" during free public open houses at the Prairie Winds Observatory, operated by the CU Astronomical Society. All sessions begin at 8 p.m. and are weather-permitting on June 8, July 6 and August 3.  For a full schedule of planetarium programs and events, call the show hotline at 217/351-2446 or visit more information on the CU Astronomical Society, visit

[image from]

Trustees Tour Health Lab, Raise Salaries

Erik Johnson to become new Staerkel Planetarium director

The Parkland College Board of Trustees toured the school's simulation lab Wednesday and approved annual salary increases for its administrators and confidential and supervisory staff.

The board also hired a new director for the William M. Staerkel Planetarium to replace longtime director David Leake, who will retire in June.

Trustees held their May meeting at Parkland College's Health Professions wing, in the Parkland on Mattis building, in order to tour the Huff-McGrain Simulation Laboratory. Named in 2013 for retired Nursing faculty JoAnn McGrain and the late Dr. Joanne Huff, the college's high-fidelity simulation lab is home to two computer-controlled, full-sized mannequins named iStan and MetiMan, manufactured by CAE, as well as an obstetrics simulator, Noelle and her baby, made by Gaumard. The American Nurses Association (ANA) and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) support and recognize the use of simulation as designated clinical hours. 

The Huff-McGrain simulation lab is slated for an upgrade this summer to accommodate the increasing demand for simulation; simulation use at Parkland College has increased greatly in recent years. Expansion plans include the addition of two simulation bays, a dedicated debriefing room, a mobile nurses station and upgraded operator stations. The lab provides clinical simulation instruction to students enrolled in the associate-degree nursing, LPN, Occupational Therapy Assistant, Respiratory Therapy, and Emergency Medical Services programs. The mannequins mimic the vital signs and physiological response of living humans, allowing students an additional level of practice in recognizing and responding to medical and emergency situations. Students develop their teamwork and clinical skills through the simulated clinical experiences and debriefings the lab provides.

Parkland's trustees approved 3 percent (or up to 3.5 percent, pending state budget) annual salary increases for the college's administrators and confidential and supervisory staff, matching similar increases for professional support staff.

Among its personnel appointments for May, the board approved the hiring of Erik Johnson as director of the school's planetarium to replace David Leake. Winner of the 2017 North Central Region of the Astronomical League Award and a founder of the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society (CUAS), Leake has served on the college's astronomy and physics faculty since 1989. Johnson, an associate professor of astronomy at Parkland since 2011, will begin as director Aug. 12.

Trustees also approved the following:

  • exempt purchase of services from Carle Regional Emergency Medical Systems of Urbana, $25,600.

  • exempt purchase of the Scholarship Manager online scholarship program license through 2022 from Next Gen of Jacksonville, Fla., $22,000.

  • PHS purchase of construction services from Open Road Paving of Urbana for campus walkway/B1 and B7 parking lot repairs, $1,432,166.

  • selection of Commerce Bank of Champaign as the college's procurement card (PCard) vendor.

  • additional personnel appointments:

    • Joshua Weber, Physics tenure-track faculty, Natural Sciences

    • Kory Allred, Construction adjunct faculty, Agriculture/Engineering Science Technologies

    • Kaitlyn Uden, Talent specialist, Human Resources

    • Oliver Swann, Library Technical Services Specialist - Acquisitions, Library

Kaler Science Talk: The Black Hole in the Heart of M87

UI astronomer will discuss steps leading up to the now famed M87 image 

On April 10, astronomers around the globe hailed the first image of a black hole in the heart of the galaxy Messier 87, using Event Horizon Telescope observations. This extraordinary scientific feat was accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers, one of whom will discuss this discovery at Parkland College next month.

Dr. Charles Forbes Gammie, professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Illinois, will speak about black holes and the steps leading up to this M87 image during the final Kaler Science lecture of the spring semester. His talk will be Friday, May 3 at 7 p.m. at the William M. Staerkel Planetarium. Admission is $2 at the door with "Friends of the Staerkel Planetarium" admitted free of charge. 

Messier 87 is an elliptical galaxy in Virgo roughly 55 million light years away. It is one of the most massive galaxies in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. Radio waves were found emanating from the galaxy in 1947, and a rocket launched in 1966 found the galaxy to be an X-ray source. Soon after, M87 was suspected to harbor a large black hole. The EHT image is the first direct image of the center of the galaxy.  

Gammie was the leader of the theoretical working group for the Event Horizon Telescope Project. He was assisted by graduate students Ben Prather and Charles Wong and former graduate student Ben R. Ryan. His team generated an extensive library of sophisticated 3D computer models that could be compared with EHT observational data, a massive computational undertaking. Gammie is a theoretical and computational astrophysicist who has worked on black hole formation and star formation. He has developed numerical methods for modeling relativistic plasmas and radiative processes in very hot plasmas. He has been at the University of Illinois since 1999, serving as the chair of the Astronomy Department from 2011 to 2014. 

Following Gammie's talk, the planetarium will present the fulldome show "Two Small Pieces of Glass: The Amazing Telescope" and then "Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon." Tickets for regular planetarium programs range from $5 to $6, all sold at the door. For a full schedule of events, call the show hotline at 217/351-2446 or visit

[Image from the EHT Collaboration at]