Pull of night sky keeps planetarium shows popular


Graduate students Travis Yeager, left, Alisha Chromey and Rita Wells inside the planetarium in Physics Hall.
Photo by Christopher Gannon.

The room goes dark, and the heads crane up. There in the basement of Physics Hall is the starry spectacle of the night sky, condensed to fit the planetarium's 20-foot-wide dome but not dimmed by city lights -- a far smaller version of the real thing, celestial but accessible.

"You could just leave town a little way and see that, but most people in their day-to-day don't," said Travis Yeager, a graduate student in physics and astronomy who volunteers at the planetarium. "It's a simple thing they have access to all the time, but the planetarium reminds you how cool it looks."

It's a reminder available on a monthly basis throughout the school year. The physics and astronomy department has for years opened the 27-seat planetarium for public shows that remain popular enough to regularly "sell" out of free tickets to the evening's three 20-minute shows, currently held on the last Friday of the month.

"I've been waiting for us to use up the 100 people in the Ames area interested in astronomy," joked associate professor Charles Kerton.

Student-run shows

The shows are organized and hosted by a volunteer group of doctoral students, including Yeager, Rita Wells, Alisha Chromey and Cory Schrandt, with help from undergraduates. The outreach helps spark and sustain interest in science, ensures consistent public use of the facility, provides a bit of publicity to faculty research and gives the graduate students valuable experience.

"It's always important that students can talk to people, regardless of what they're going to do in the future," Kerton said. "It's a good chance for them to develop communication skills and a good chance for them to learn things themselves."

The graduate student volunteers meet monthly to discuss the next show topic. Sometimes, they will mention a faculty member's research. Often, repeated broad themes, such as the solar system or galaxies, are freshened up by touching on recent astronomical headlines.

For instance, the topic of the last show of the semester -- tonight, April 26, at 6:30, 7 and 7:30 p.m. -- is backyard astronomy, which is about night-sky objects visible to the naked eye and often heavy on constellations. So how does that fit with the big astronomy news of the last month, the first images of a black hole? Since the black hole is at the center of a massive galaxy in the Virgo constellation, "I'll probably say, 'Here's the night sky. Here's the constellation Virgo. Oh, let's look at the Virgo supercluster,'" Chromey said.

The students share the speaking duties for performances, with a different leader for each show. On any given night, all of the versions of the show are different, as they don't follow set scripts and often will go in different directions based on their interests or audience questions. At least one common question has a new pat answer now.

"We get a lot of, 'What does a black hole look like?'" Wells said.

"Well, now we can show them," Chromey added.

The first show at 6:30 p.m. is designed for preschoolers, though all of the evening's shows are family-friendly. Ticket distribution begins about 6 p.m. and may quickly run out, though a fourth show sometimes is added. Science activities for kids are available in a waiting area outside the planetarium, which is in the northeast corner of Physics Hall. On clear nights, there's stargazing after the shows from Physics Hall's rooftop observation desk. The students also host private showings for interested groups on other days, if their schedules allow. 

'Not lacking for wonder'

Managing the public shows takes about five hours a month, which is time well-spent for a variety of reasons, the volunteers said.

Wells enjoys connecting astronomy to technology, exploring the similarities between galaxy clusters and more approable examples of science, like smartphones. "Here's some really awesome astronomy, awesome forces, awesome things we look at, and also, they run on the same basic principles that everything else runs on," she said.

For Chromey, it's a chance to share her love of the skies. "Astronomy is not lacking for wonder and awe," she said.

Witnessing that awe every time the lights go out is a simple pleasure, Yeager said. "I like to hear the 'wows,'" he said.  

Alumnus will lead the College of Engineering

Sam Easterling

W. Samuel Easterling

W. Samuel (Sam) Easterling from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has been named the next James L. and Katherine S. Melsa Dean of Engineering.

Easterling, Montague-Betts Professor of Structural Steel Design and head of the Via department of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, will begin at Iowa State July 15.

"Dr. Easterling is an accomplished educator, scholar, and administrator, and has long been a leader in his discipline of structural engineering," said President Wendy Wintersteen. "He is a great choice to build on the College of Engineering's excellence and national prestige, and we are proud to welcome him back to campus." 

Welcome reception

April 26, 10-11:45 a.m.
Harpole Welcome Center, Marston Hall

The campus community is invited to an informal welcome reception for Easterling Friday, April 26, from 10 to 11:45 a.m. in the Harpole Welcome Center on the first floor of Marston Hall.

Easterling holds bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from West Virginia University and a doctorate in structural engineering from Iowa State. A registered Professional Engineer, he joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1987 and is a former president of its faculty senate. Easterling also is active within the American Institute of Steel Construction, the American Iron and Steel Institute and the American Society of Civil Engineers. He has won numerous awards for his research and professional service.

"It's an incredible and humbling opportunity to come back to Ames and lead the college where I earned my Ph.D.," Easterling said. "I look forward to working with our students, faculty, staff and alumni to build upon the legacy of those who came before me and, with their support, helping the college climb to even greater heights."

In making the announcement, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert thanked retiring dean Sarah Rajala for her leadership and members of the campus community for their thoughtful consideration of candidates.

Employee leaders appeal to regents for pay increases

In anticipation of their discussion of university budgets at the June 5-6 meeting, state Board of Regents members heard pleas for more generous employee pay during their April 18 meeting in Iowa City. Stacy Renfro, president of the Professional and Scientific Council; and Peter Martin, president of the Faculty Senate, were among the presenters.

Renfro, a program manager in the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence, told regents implementing Workday and new models for human resources and financial transactions created an unusually challenging year at Iowa State. P&S employees are being asked to "take on temporary duties, learn new processes, hold off on filling vacancies and wear many hats," she said.

"In the face of extraordinary change, it's imperative that we find sustainable ways to retain and reward over 3,000 professional and scientific employees who are affecting every component of the Iowa State University mission and operation," Renfro said.

Citing data from Iowa State's 2017 campus climate survey, Renfro noted just 23% of P&S respondents said their salaries and benefits are competitive, and 50% said they've considered leaving the university. Their top three motivators for leaving were related to compensation: low pay, limited opportunities for advancement and increased workload.

Renfro thanked President Wendy Wintersteen for her commitment to keeping employee salary increases a priority. She implored board members "to make any efforts possible" to recognize P&S staff contributions to their universities and help the schools do a better job of retaining and attracting productive and engaged staff members.

Martin, University Professor of human development and family studies, told board members ISU faculty salary data tells the story: Second-to-last among its peer group (and trailing the top university in the group by more than $40,000), and very low or no salary increases for the last half-dozen years. Moving Iowa State even to the faculty salary average among those peers would take a salary boost of $13,300 for every ISU faculty member, Martin said.

"I hope you know we strive to be an above-average university," he added.

But Martin said it's not just about money. It's about recognizing "ambitious, dedicated reliable faculty" who care about their students and believe their students deserve the best.

"Low or no salary increases give us the message that we're not appreciated, we're not a priority at the university, nor perhaps with the Board of Regents," he said.

The predictable outcome has been a high number of faculty resignations in the last two years and the challenge of replacing them with the best and most creative candidates, not those other universities rejected. The loss of top-notch faculty, he noted, "compromises the student experience."

Martin also told the board there's work to do to make salaries equitable across gender, race, ethnicity and age.

"At Iowa State, we strive for a university that is fair and equitable to all faculty who contribute so much to our mission," he said.

Board president Michael Richards told the presenters, "This board is working toward your same goals, perhaps not as fast as you'd like, but we're on the same team."

Tuition discussion, faculty promotions delayed

Richards reiterated the board's commitment to setting tuition rates one time, and to understanding state appropriations before setting them. On April 23, the Iowa Senate approved a $12 million increase to the general university appropriation to the three regent universities or the year that begins July 1. That's two-thirds of the $18 million increase the board sought. An earlier House version of the bill would have provided $15.9 million in additional support. The legislation awaits Gov. Kim Reynolds' signature, but the board hasn't announced how it would distribute $12 million among the universities.

The board's tuition "guiderails" for Iowa State and Iowa include a 3% increase for resident undergraduates if the state fully funded the regents' general university appropriation request, an estimated 5% (3% plus projected Higher Education Price Index) if appropriations stay flat, and somewhere between 3% and 5% for a partially funded request.

Richards said the board will hold a special meeting in late April or early May for a first reading of 2019-20 tuition rates, with final approval at the June meeting. He acknowledged the delay impacts students and families who need to line up funding for fall.

Final approval of promotions and tenure for 70 Iowa State faculty members also could come at that special meeting. Because the item inadvertently was omitted from the April consent agenda, the board could not take final action. State law requires a 24-hour public posting of all agenda items.

Final approval

The board gave final approval to these ISU items on the consent agenda:

  • Request to begin plans for $25 million in improvements to Hilton Coliseum. Key pieces are new concessions on the north and south concourses, remodeled north and south entrances, and upgrades for the mechanical systems and two elevators.
  • Schematic design and budget ($3.7 million) to expand the Veterinary Medicine Field Services facility at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The plan would renovate 1,500 square feet of the existing 9,000-square-foot building and add 6,000 square feet.
  • Honorary Doctor of Science degree for Robert Easter, professor of animal science emeritus and president emeritus at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, to recognize his efforts to advance agricultural education and research at the national and international levels. Easter, an expert in pig nutrition, was an Illinois faculty member and administrator from 1976 to 2015. Faculty in the animal science department nominated Easter.
  • First and final reading for a new board policy on freedom of expression at the three regent university campuses, as required by Iowa Code chapter 261H, enacted March 27.
  • Parking permit rates for the year that begins July 1. Employee permits will go up $5-$25, departmental and vendor permits will go up $10 and $15, respectively. Permits for the Memorial Union ramp will go up $5-$12.
  • Student housing and dining rates for next year. Residence hall and campus apartment rates will go up about 2%, and flex meal packages and academic year meal plans would increase by a similar range, 1.7-1.9%. The guest rate at campus dining centers will be $10.50 for breakfast and $13.50 for lunch or dinner.
  • Program name changes, from agricultural biochemistry to biochemistry, and from M.A. in graphic design to M.A. in experiential graphic design.


Related story

Faculty promotions list goes to regents for approval, April 11, 2019

Pollard talks risks and rewards of rushing the field

The theme (managing risks) seemed pretty typical for a supply chain conference. The luncheon speaker (athletics director Jamie Pollard) was a little less on the nose, though his speech ("Rushing the Field: The Risk and the Reward") was aptly framed.

In a 30-minute presentation at the 27th annual Voorhees Supply Chain Conference, hosted at the Sukup End Zone Club April 24 by the Ivy College of Business, Pollard discussed how he weighs postgame celebrations of momentous Cyclone wins that prompt fans to flock onto Jack Trice Stadium's field or Hilton Coliseum's court. He outlined some changes planned to ensure field-rushing remains safe for players, officials, staff and fans.

Impromptu on-field revelry at Jack Trice Stadium drew wide attention last fall, when the Cyclones beat then-No. 6 West Virginia 30-14. After complaints from West Virginia's coach, the Big 12 Conference fined Iowa State $25,000, claiming it failed to keep the visiting team safe, though no one was injured. Iowa State appealed the conference's decision and lost, despite videos showing law enforcement quickly escorting West Virginia players off the field.

Pollard emphasized that celebration was handled safely, using the same procedures as field rushes following wins against TCU (2017) and Oklahoma State (2011) that didn't draw fines. But the incident raised a question about field-rushing that has no "cookie-cutter answer," he said: "What's the risk-benefit?"

While allowing fans to storm the field presents safety risks, so does digging in heels to prevent them, Pollard said. The 1993 postgame celebration at the University of Wisconsin that injured 69 people showed the dangers of trying to stop an exuberant crowd from pushing its way on to the field. Allowing fans access is safer, he said.

"We certainly don't want to encourage it, but most law enforcement and safety/EMS people would say you've got to let that surge out," he said.

Though some have advocated a strict ban on entering the playing surface after a game, that doesn't prevent it. Property damage and fines are both risks, but national recognition and a special atmosphere that creates lasting memories are both big rewards, he said. Older fans in particular rave to Pollard about the fun of field-rushing, he said.

"I had people send me pictures," he said. "'I took my grandson down on the field and we got a blade of grass and now he's going to pass it on to the next generation. He's going to do that with his grandson, and I did it with my dad.' OK, that's awesome."

Still, additional safety measures are likely, Pollard said.

"There are some things we just need to do to continue to tweak the process to try to mitigate the risk," he said.

Field passes for football games will be tightened in the future to limit the sheer number of people on the field level, Pollard said.

The athletics department also is working with police on a plan to allow fans to exit the stands toward the field level when a storming celebration is coming but temporarily delay them from coming on the field, Pollard said. That would relieve pressure building in the crowd but give opponents more time to exit before fans swarm the playing surface.

"We let it dribble out and create a secondary barrier so you get them out of there so no one is getting squished in their seats, but they're not on the field yet and you're kind of funneling them," he said.

And stadium security staff will continue to communicate directly with fans in situations where field-rushing is imminent, as they did in the waning minutes of the West Virginia game, Pollard said. Before the game ended, security staff urged fans in the first 15 rows of the student section to take the stairs to the field instead of vaulting the walls and to leave players alone.

"It works," he said. "We need to do more of that education."

Wickert provides promotion and tenure update to senate

Meeting coverage

In his annual report to the Faculty Senate on April 23, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert said 70 of Iowa State's 76 promotion and tenure cases this spring are recommended for approval. The recommendations still need official approval from the state Board of Regents, which likely will happen at a special meeting later this month or in May.

Tenure is recommended for 34 faculty, 33 of whom were promoted to associate professor. Among tenured faculty, 36 are recommended for promotion to full professor.

In a breakdown by gender and ethnicity, 43 of 70 cases are males -- 31 are white, 10 are Asian or Asian-American and two are Latino. Among the 27 female faculty, 22 are white and five are Asian or Asian-American.

"We continue to see high-quality cases," Wickert said. "Not just the accomplishments of the individual faculty, but the way the cases are prepared and presented."

Post-tenure review

Wickert said the colleges conducted 78 post-tenure reviews. Three faculty received "below expectations" evaluations, requiring an action plan for improvement, the fewest since FY15.

"I am asked by people about post-tenure review quite often," Wickert said. "The fact that the Faculty Senate has put together fair policies for post-tenure review that are focused on improvement really puts us in a good position when we go around the state talking about tenure and faculty advancement."

Classroom disruptions policy

Senators approved changes for the Faculty Handbook policy regarding classroom disruptions. Among the changes is an expanded definition of learning environments to include online and virtual spaces, labs and offices. It also provides examples of disruptive behavior. Senators amended the policy to clarify that single serious incidents or persistent actions can be considered disruptive behaviors.

The policy includes a procedures and guidance document that describes a graduated approach to dealing with disruptive conduct.

Other business 

  • Senators approved a Master of Athletic Training degree in the College of Human Sciences. The program would begin in May 2020.
  • Two executive board seats were filled. Claire Andreasen (veterinary pathology) was reelected as faculty development and administrative relations council chair, and Tim Day (biomedical sciences) was elected to judiciary and appeals council chair.

Jack Trice statue is returning to central campus

Photo of bronze Jack Trice statue

The Jack Trice statue was moved from central campus in 1997 when the football stadium was named for Trice. File photo.

The Jack Trice statue, which has been located outside the north entrance to the football stadium since 1997, will be returned to central campus.

The statue needs to be relocated from Jack Trice Stadium due to the construction of the new Sports Performance Center. Rather than temporarily relocate it during construction, a committee of campus and student leaders proposed permanently returning the statue to central campus and using the construction project as an opportunity to develop additional visible ways to recognize Trice's legacy in and around the stadium.

Jack Trice was Iowa State's first African-American student-athlete. He died from injuries suffered in a 1923 football game. The Jack Trice statue originally was located between Beardshear and Carver halls from 1988 to 1997. 

The committee, consisting of leaders from the student affairs division, athletics department, office of diversity and inclusion, facilities planning and management (FPM), university museums and Student Government, consulted with the academic affairs division, the Black Faculty and Staff Association, Professional and Scientific Council and Faculty Senate before sending the proposal to senior leadership and the president for approval.

"Moving the statue back to central campus is a wonderful way to lift up the prominence and recognition of Jack Trice's legacy to the entire Iowa State community," said President Wendy Wintersteen. "I appreciate the careful thought and wide input that helped us arrive at this important decision. We plan to convene another committee to help decide how we can further share Jack Trice's story."

Consensus on a central campus location for the statue is between Beardshear Hall and the Hub, a high traffic area that provides visibility. The athletics department is working with FPM and university museums to move the statue in the coming weeks to a short-term holding area until the new site is ready this summer.

"Returning the statue to central campus provides an opportunity to significantly expand awareness of Jack Trice's story beyond athletics," said director of athletics Jamie Pollard. "We look forward to working with a committee to help identify how we can further enhance Jack Trice's legacy in and around our facilities."

Student Government president Julian Neely said moving the statue is important in two ways. "First, relocating it to central campus honors Trice's scholastic excellence as a student-athlete. Second, it provides an opportunity for a new Jack Trice tribute that we hope will be a larger display as part of the new plaza and sports performance center," he said.

Plans to further celebrate Jack Trice's legacy will be incorporated into the overall planning for the Student-Athlete Sports Performance Center. The $90 million center project, funded by private support and athletics funds, began this month and will take two years to complete.


Be ready for data deadlines as Workday go-live nears

With the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and Workday go-live on July 1, deadlines for finalizing data in Iowa State's current financial, human resources and payroll systems are being determined.  A WorkCyte team has been planning for the cutover -- moving from existing systems and processes to the Workday software platform -- for months.

"Cutover is unique in that we're going to have interim processes where business is going to look a little different," said Joli Coil, a program manager in information technology services and member of the WorkCyte cutover team. "It's not going to look like our current processes, and it's not really going to look like our final Workday processes."

Go-live is not a simple flip of a switch at midnight on June 30. Data from dozens of systems must be cleaned up, converted and loaded into Workday, beginning as early as late May. Cutover timing may shorten the window for entering and updating data in systems accessed through Administrative Information Systems (ADIN) and AccessPlus.

"Each system and the processes around them are being analyzed to determine the best date to snapshot the data, format and load it," Coil said.

Last days

Coil said the cutover team is determining "last day" deadlines for adding and updating information in current systems. For example, university human resources announced deadlines to post and apply for positions in PeopleAdmin, the hiring and classification software that will be replaced by Workday.

Deadlines for FY 2019 end-of-year work also will be affected. The controller's office will release a schedule for earlier end-of-year financial processes earlier to accommodate the cutover.

"We have to plan for what that cutover execution time frame looks like. We have a fiscal year-end process, but we have to do things a bit differently. Some dates might be earlier," Coil said. "We'll have an inventory of the last days to enter data into current systems."

Last day deadlines will be announced through WorkCyte and PIT crew communications, beginning in May.

Gardens' games debut April 27

Toddler plays at BEEd Maze sculpture at Reiman Gardens

Four-year-old Bruno Kimble of Ames plays at the "BEEs Maze" sculpture installed this week at Reiman Gardens. The "BEEs Maze" is scaled to be used by all ages, especially toddlers and young children. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Find your favorite toys and lawn games at Reiman Gardens this year -- each with an artistic and ecological twist.

The "Nature of the Game" exhibit is part of Reiman Gardens' 2019 theme: Toys and Games. Eight larger-than-life toys and games, designed by Iowa State faculty, alumni, students and Reiman Gardens staff, will be displayed throughout the gardens April 27 through Oct. 6.

"It's almost revolutionary as far as exhibits go," said Ed Lyon, director of Reiman Gardens.

That's because public gardens typically seek out large exhibits they can bring to their gardens to attract visitors. Reiman Gardens is reversing that tradition by enlisting the help of Reinaldo Correa, lecturer in architecture, and the College of Design's Institute for Design Research and Outreach to design the interactive exhibit. After its year in Ames, the exhibit will be leased to different venues.

Architecture, industrial design and mechanical engineering students and structural engineering alumni teamed up with Correa to plan the exhibit, working closely with Reiman Gardens staff to bring their vision to life.

"The mission is to educate people about the beauty of nature," said Aaron Steil, assistant director of Reiman Gardens. "The artistic and ecological elements deepen this exhibit to be more meaningful and impactful."

The titled projects are: 

  • "Scavenger Hunt." Inspired by "I Spy," five works of art represent five biomes in the United States, giving visitors an opportunity to look closely at each to learn more about plants and animals in each biome. "These five sculptures will be spread throughout the garden, allowing the viewer to engage in the act of learning while exploring," Correa said.
  • "Morphing Morphology." This cryptex (a vault used to hide secret messages) allows visitors to turn five wheels to line up the various parts of eight trees found in North America.
  • "Photosynthesize." Visitors work together to move a ball through this maze to learn about the six elements of the photosynthesis cycle. The maze form was inspired by the veins of a maple tree leaf.
  • "Food Web Chess." This larger-than-life chess match has a twist. The pieces represent an animal or plant from the food chain: grey fox is the king, red-tailed hawk is the queen, painted turtle is the bishop, praying mantis is the knight, stink bug is the rook and dandelions and clovers are the pawns. Each piece has the original chess symbol on top and name on the bottom.
  • "Cause and Effect." This double-sided sliding tile puzzle demonstrates the cause and effect of wetlands and pollution. Unscrambling one side scrambles the other, demonstrating the connections between different biomes and their threats.
  • "Consequence." This game, inspired by KerPlunk, shows humans' impact on the environment. Each ball has a relief pattern of an endangered plant species, and each pole is engraved with negative human actions. As poles are removed, the balls tumble down, demonstrating the repercussions of human decisions for the environment.
  • "BEEs Maze." Inspired by bead mazes found in clinic waiting rooms, this game teaches the importance of bees and pollination as each 3D-printed bee can be pushed through a flower. The maze involves the whole family with sections designed to encourage parents to interact with their young children.
  • "Connect Food." This large game inspired by "Connect Four" demonstrates the life cycles of butterflies and moths.

Reiman Gardens staff are creating three more pieces in-house: giant dice, a fan of cards with photo-op face cut-outs and a playhouse shaped like a speed cube. Twelve fabricators in Iowa and Ohio, together with Correa's team, are working to finish in time for the April 27 grand opening.

"Giant lawn games are not unknown to public parks and gardens," Lyon said. "But we wanted to take it a step further. From a national public gardens perspective, this exhibit will make an impact."