Astronomy Day connects bridges

Story by David Burish, Staff Writer

 The UW-Eau Claire Physics and Astronomy department hosted Astronomy Day, an annual event showcasing activities and research done by the department’s staff and students, Saturday May 4.

The event is sponsored by the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society, which runs the Hobbs Observatory at Beaver Creek Reserve outside of Fall Creek.

The event was free and open to the public and event organizer Lauren Likkel, a professor of physics and astronomy and director of the L E. Phillips Planetarium, said the event is important for university outreach.

“It’s another way that the university is reaching out into the community and allowing the community to get involved with unstructured, hands on learning,” Likkel said.

Astronomy Day is a nationally recognized event and used to be held at the Hobbs Observatory. According to Likkel, the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society was not generating a lot of interest from the community because of the distance.

“As planetarium director I suggested we hold it on campus and then we can have planetarium shows as part of the event,” Likkel said.

Since this switch, Likkel said attendance has improved because of the location as well as correlating the event with other campus events like the state solo and ensemble competition.

The department used a number of activities and presentations in order to appeal to students, children and older community members. According to Likkel, there were activities that involved solar telescopes, spectroscopes, radioactivity and free planetarium shows that occurred throughout the day.

“It’s an opportunity for people to learn about a very accessible science in astronomy,” Likkel said.

Likkel has been planning the event for years and has looked for student volunteers to help run events, like Telma Frumholtz, who spent the day running activities for children.

While Frumholtz is not a physics major, she said the opportunity was too interesting to pass up.

“I did learn a lot about physics and interesting things because it was all about rockets and meteorites,” Frumholtz said. “I also met a lot of the professors and I learned about their fields.”

Junior Mandy Neumann also volunteered her time but she is also an employee at the planetarium and finds the whole experience rewarding.

“I really like explaining to people stuff about our galaxy, solar system, stars,” Neumann said. “I think everyone has some sort of curiosity about it and it’s fun being able to help out with it.”

Neumann also said that events like Astronomy Day are important to exposing students to the diversity of the campus.

“Sometimes we forget all of the majors or all of the areas of academia that Eau Claire has to offer and this is one way that we are able to put out something from the sciences,” Neumann said.

Neumann and Frumholtz both said the event was a success. But Frumholtz said that the event allowed students to see what’s available at the university.

“It just informs you what’s actually on campus and all the fun activities you can do,” she said. “It also teaches you fundamental and cool things to know.”