September 12, 2001
Although it pales in significance to the events of September 11, the fate of the Zeiss Planetarium projector and the Siderostat telescope that are in the former Buhl Science Center on the North Side cannot be ignored. According to the article which appeared in the September 5 issue of the Post-Gazette, there is a consensus that the Zeiss projector should be preserved, but opinions differ in how this should be done.
Seddon Bennington, of the Carnegie Science Center, said he would like to see the projector become an artifact in the Center's proposed expansion. Preserving the Zeiss strictly as an artifact is absurd. It is not the device, but what the device does, that remains in the memories of everyone who attended the "sky shows" in the now vacant Buhl Science Building. The Zeiss is not an "art object" to be put on display. It is a functional educational tool that can supplement, not compete with the Digistar planetarium projector that is currently in use at Carnegie Science Center's Henry G. Buhl, Jr. Planetarium.
Chris Siefert, of the Children's Museum, is quoted as saying, "The Zeiss isn't part of our mission". What is the mission of the Children's Museum? To entertain children, or to educate them as they are entertained? He went on to say the Children's Museum has plans to use the former "Theater of the Stars" room as an area for "hands on" wood working and mechanical projects. There are other rooms in the former Buhl Science Center building that are better suited for that purpose. The Planetarium projector and the dome shaped "sky theater" room were designed as a set; each needs the other.
A pre-CD phonograph record is an interesting artifact, but looking at one cannot adequately demonstrate it's purpose to someone who has never heard such a record played on a phonograph. So be it with the Zeiss.
The Siderostat telescope accorded thousands of people their first opportunity to view astronomical objects with other than their unaided eye. Anyone, such as I, who has heard the astonished remarks of children and adults as they viewed objects, such as the Moon or Saturn, through a telescope for the first time can not doubt the value of keeping this instrument active and accessible.
I was about 5 years old when, at the Fels Planetarium of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, I had my first exposure to the wonders of seeing a Zeiss projector function and of looking through an astronomical telescope for the first time. I will never forget my wonderment of both these experiences, which I attribute as the primary reasons for my life long interest in astronomy and other natural sciences. Isn't it part of the Children's Museum's mission to kindle like feelings in our children? This can be done only if these devices are used as active functioning educational tools to be experienced rather than just "art objects" to be viewed.
Experienced volunteers (I am one) are available to operate and maintain these educational tools. Their benefit to the children of the Pittsburgh area is dependent upon using them effectively, which can be best done if they remain at their current location and, periodically, be made accessible to the public.
JOHN D. WEINHOLD