Overview of the project

Project title: Nanotarium: The Most Inexpensive, Quality DIY Planetarium on Earth
Project leader: Dr. James Sweitzer

This project is to test and further develop small, inexpensive planetarium projectors, “Nanotariums,” to be made by astronomy educators and/or their students anywhere in the world. They feature educationally useful, single star field images that are projected using quality optics. They can project on any flat or curved surface at a scale useful for teaching small classes or demonstrating the night sky to small groups. Happily, they consume little power, so they can be run from a simple power adapter or even batteries.

In an age of expensive, sophisticated, high-end digital planetariums, Nanotariums project a stunning star field at a fraction of the cost. Bright, high color-temperature LEDs and the ability to easily create digital star fields for laser cutting of gobo star plates make this possible. The budgetary goal is to create a basic planetarium projector for approximately $50 US in parts.

An added bonus is that these projectors can eventually be offered as full or partial kits. The kits would include corollary information on the physics of optics and light on which the projectors depend. They can justifiably be termed a comprehensive DIY (Do It Yourself) STEM learning project, similar to those at Maker Faires.

The proof of concept for this mini-projection system was tested at Columbia College Chicago’s Summer 2013 informal ed program for high school students called Junior Research Scientists. This proposal hopes to take the projector one step further and to develop training materials and workshops for educators. These would be tested in Columbia’s community outreach programs in Chicago, at the International Planetarium Society (IPS) meeting in Beijing 2014, and, hopefully, at the IAU meeting in Hawaii, 2015.