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Pomona Receives $1 Million for New Digital Planetarium From the Fletcher Jones Foundation

Millikan Building rendering

Pomona College has been awarded a $1 million grant from the Fletcher Jones Foundation to fund the construction of a digital planetarium for the new Millikan Science Hall.

Equipped with an Evans and Sutherland Digistar IV high-resolution digital theater system, the Fletcher Jones Foundation Digital Planetarium will provide opportunities for teaching and research across the disciplines, serving as a portal to a range of immersive experiences. Its domed profile will be the visual focal point of Millikan Science Hall.

“With this generous grant, the College will be able to take a huge step forward in innovative technology and teaching,” says David Oxtoby, president of Pomona College. “More than a planetarium, this digital immersive theatre not only will be an invaluable resource for exploring the night sky, it will transform learning across the liberal arts.”

Classes in neuroscience can delve into full-view renderings of brain scans. Biology students will be able to “travel” through the human body, and geology classes could “fly” over maps and canyons or superimpose GIS-based information. In the humanities and social sciences, students could tour ancient cities like Rome and Pompeii or visually display and manipulate large demographic data sets exploring the evolution of trends, such as immigration or housing prices. Music classes will be able to use the space to translate sound into visual images. Art students can view sculptures and buildings from different perspectives.

“In astronomy, a class could ‘fly’ through the Milky Way and land on Europa,” notes an excited Bryan Penprase, professor of astronomy at Pomona, “or instructors could patch in data from space probes and project images from their landing sites on other planets or moons. For archeo-astronomy, the sky could be reconfigured to match positions of the stars and planets at any point in history to observe how sites like the Egyptian pyramids or Mayan temples were aligned with the stars and planets, at the time of their construction.”

Kathleen Howe, professor of art and director of the Pomona College Museum of Art, reports that, “In the last five years, there has been a small but growing movement in which artists partner with planetaria to create full-dome visual and aural experiences. It's exciting to imagine what our students and faculty will create with this wonderful new facility on campus.”

The new facility will allow Pomona to showcase in striking and enthralling clarity what the best liberal arts education has always exemplified: the interconnectivity of knowledge; the meshing of the arts, the humanities and the sciences in a full 360-degree view.

The Fletcher Jones Digital Planetarium will replace a 2002 planetarium that included a GOTO GEII system, which was funded by an earlier grant the Fletcher Jones Foundation. Pomona has donated that 12-year-old system to The Webb Schools, a private independent high school in Claremont, Calif., allowing it to substantially upgrade its capabilities. The Webb planetarium will be open to visits from local public schools, including students in the physics program at Claremont High School.

The Fletcher Jones Foundation was established in 1968 by Fletcher Jones, co-founder of Computer Sciences Corporation. Based in Pasadena, the Foundation’s mission is and has been to support private, independent colleges and universities in California.

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