University News

Denison receives major gift to transform planetarium

Astronomy Physics
May 19, 2023

A generous gift from a donor with deep connections to Denison University will transform the college’s planetarium and revolutionize how faculty teach astronomy and incorporate the facility into a variety of academic disciplines.

The support from Marilyn P. McConnell, whose family tree includes many Denison alums, will significantly expand and upgrade a feature not often found on liberal arts college campuses. Built in 1995, Denison’s 42-seat planetarium on the first floor of the F.W. Olin Science Hall has been used as a resource for teaching, presentations, and shows.

The renovation, expected to be completed in the fall of 2023, will leverage the latest display and immersive software technology to expand academic uses for the facility beyond traditional disciplines to include subjects such as environmental studies and biology. It will also allow Denison to introduce creative new community programming.

“Students at Denison begin to truly unlock their potential when they address the challenges of our times in exciting and unexpected ways,” said Denison President Adam Weinberg. “The upgraded planetarium, made possible by Marilyn’s generosity, will give students access to elite technology to explore the world and further their studies in ways they have not been able to previously. Simply put, cutting-edge tools like this are not available at most liberal arts colleges.”

McConnell said she fell in love with Denison while looking at colleges with her daughter, Laura ’92, who majored in both dance and biology while on The Hill.

“I was so touched that at Denison, she was able to pursue the arts and sciences simultaneously,” McConnell said. “She is a prime example of what President Weinberg means when discussing how a Denison education prepares students to launch into their lives and careers quickly. Laura danced professionally right out of college and has worked in the scientific field for the last 30 years. If she hadn’t been allowed to explore these interests and others in college, I’m not sure how her future would have developed.”

McConnell’s interest in the planetarium is rooted in memories from her youth and experience with a science-based family business.

“The arts and sciences go together — they complement each other,” she said. “We must keep stretching our minds, creativity, and curiosity. The planetarium helps people do that. I remember my parents taking me to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago as a child — I was just fascinated. I still try to learn, learn, learn, and I think we should all keep stretching our minds and creativity.”

Her generous gift includes money for capital improvements, endowed funds for maintenance in perpetuity, and community outreach. The opportunities it will create at Denison will enable advanced and sophisticated scientific inquiry and bring new views of the cosmos to students and visitors.

“While the previous system was limited to visualizing the sky as seen with just your eye from the surface of the Earth, the new system will allow us to transport audiences across the cosmos and time,” said Steven Olmschenk, chair of physics and astronomy at Denison. “We will be able to digitally zoom in on Jupiter to see the Galilean moons — both as Galileo first saw them through a telescope in 1610 and as spacecraft today see them as they pass by. The new Marilyn P. McConnell planetarium will transform how we present astronomy and other topics to our students and the community.”

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