Marietta College announces Anderson Hancock Planetarium to open in 2009

Throughout their teaching careers at Marietta College, physics professors Les Anderson and Whit Hancock wanted to inspire their students to reach for the stars.

Now one of their former students - David Rickey '78 - and his wife Brenda are passing on that message to future generations at Marietta, announcing a $2.7 million gift to the College that literally makes those celestial orbs appear within one's grasp.

"Brenda and I are excited about building a planetarium at Marietta College. We love science, particularly astronomy, and we hope the planetarium serves everybody in the Marietta College community, as well as the many future visitors from all over Ohio and West Virginia," said David Rickey. "Furthermore, we are pleased to name the building the Anderson Hancock Planetarium, in honor of two retired Marietta physics professors, Les Anderson and Whit Hancock. These dedicated and inspiring teachers mentored me and many other physics students over several decades."

The Anderson Hancock Planetarium will be built adjoining the Rickey Science Center, attached at the southeast corner of the building near Fayerweather Hall. Architect Jim Butz, who is also the architect for Legacy Library, consulted with Ash Enterprises Inc., a company that specializes in planetarium operations support; Grae-Con Construction Inc., the construction company currently building the new library; and Marietta College professor Dr. Dennis Kuhl and Anderson and Hancock about what the new state-of-the-art facility must contain. The College plans to break ground on the project in April 2008 with the goal completion date of January 2009.

Upon hearing the news the College was getting a planetarium, both retired professors were excited for Marietta and for the Physics Department. When they learned the new facility would bear their names, they were nearly speechless.

"This is an honor I never expected," Hancock said. "For me and for most teachers, just knowing that your students are successful is the most rewarding part of the job."

Hancock taught Rickey in his Introduction to Physics course in the early 1970s. "He was inquisitive; he was very self-confident; he was assertive in getting the most out of his education. Dave was a very good student."

Anderson said this gift could inspire more students to focus on science training.

"I think this has the potential in the region to keep the interest in science alive longer," Anderson said. "There's an old saying that every child is a natural-born scientist until they are about age 12, as they're always asking why things are they way they are and how things work. Anything that keeps that inquiring spirit alive is a powerful asset. What I do know is that anything that helps keep their interest in science alive is a benefit. As far as the College is concerned, the existence of the planetarium should create in the students a little more excitement for their science education."

Anderson added that the planetarium could inspire some physics majors to chart their professional course toward astrophysics or astronomy.

The planetarium theater itself will be 40 feet in diameter with an additional 3-foot-wide perimeter aisle with reclining theater seats that will accommodate 85 to 100 people. According to Kuhl the projection system will combine an optical-mechanical star-field projector with a powerful full-dome digital video projector. The optical-mechanical projector will have the capabilities of accurately charting the night skies from thousands of years ago to thousands of years in the future. "The digital video projector will have the capability to zoom in on thousands of astronomical images, or to project full-dome video of any number of subjects," Kuhl said.

"If you could turn the aisle lights out in the planetarium so it's completely dark, and you look up at that projection and focus on one group of stars, you could easily forget that you're not outside looking up on a very clear night," Anderson said. "The planetarium will also be an opportunity for school children in the region to make a field trip to campus, and also offer possibilities for teacher education. There will also be times when the College will probably want to have public shows as well."

The 4,400-square-foot building addition will include a light vestibule, a space for student-faculty astronomy research, two restrooms and an area reserved for display. The planetarium wing will have an outside entrance, so visitors don't have to walk through the Rickey Science Center.

"Furthermore, Brenda and I are thrilled that the College is adding an astronomy-centric professor to the physics department, and will offer an expanded menu of astronomy courses," Rickey said.

The planetarium project, which includes an endowed professorship and an endowment for building maintenance, will cost $4.2 million. The Rickeys have donated $2.7 million and have challenged the College to raise the additional $1.5 million.

Though building a planetarium on campus was not one of the specific goals of the College's $50 million Legacy Campaign, its addition fits into Marietta's strategic plan - which emphasizes expanding educational opportunities and adding faculty to enhance the science curriculum.

"Philanthropy is the lifeblood of all great colleges in America. We are grateful for this generous and visionary gift from Dave and Brenda Rickey," said Marietta President Dr. Jean A. Scott. "The Rickeys have provided the financial support and intellectual direction to help the College reinvigorate the physics program and make it one of the finest in the region. Strengthening the sciences is a key component to our strategic plan and the addition of a planetarium and an endowed professorship is a wonderful commitment to this plan."

Vice President for Advancement Lori Lewis agrees, adding that the Rickeys have many times in the past shown their devotion to keeping Dave Rickey's alma mater at the forefront of higher education.

"Dave and Brenda Rickey's gift to build a planetarium and establish a professorship promises to strengthen an already impressive science program at Marietta," said Lewis. "We are tremendously grateful for the Rickeys' willingness to offer the funding today that will keep Marietta among the finest and most respected small colleges in the country."