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Meet The New Manager Of The Planetarium At U-M Museum Of Natural History

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

After more than 30 years, there is a new manager of the University of Michigan Planetarium inside the Museum of Natural History.

WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Jeffery "Buddy" Stark about his new position there and what plans he has in store for the digital high-tech planetarium.



The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History is pleased to welcome Jeffery “Buddy” Stark as the new Planetarium Manager. Stark fills the position vacated by the retirement of Matthew Linke who had held the position for 32 years.

Stark has worked in planetaria since he began as a student operator when he was a student at Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Illinois. He worked in the planetarium at the Michigan Science Center before serving as the manager of the Longway Planetarium in Flint.

Stark has an MA in Science Education and is working on his PhD in the same field from Western Michigan University. He was named a Fellow of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association in 2019.

“I am passionate about improving science literacy among the public,” said Stark. “There’s so much more to understanding science than what is taught in formal classroom settings. I want to help people of all ages to understand the world around them—and that can be done under the dome and out in the community.”

Planetarium shows will resume October 1, 2021.

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History inspires curiosity with exhibits that explore the natural world from molecules to dinosaurs, a planetarium to discover the Universe, public labs to do hands-on science, and opportunities to chat with scientists. The museum is free for families and individuals. Additional information can be found at ummnh.org.


Lisa Barry: It hasn't been a great summer for sky viewing in our area, due to lots of rain and weather events, but there's one place you can go where out-of-this-world views are guaranteed: inside the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History Planetarium and Dome Theater. This is Lisa Barry, and, after over 30 years, that planetarium has a new manager and he joins us now. Welcome, Jeffrey "Buddy" stark, thanks for talking to us here on WEMU. 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Thanks for having me.

Lisa Barry: You prefer Buddy? Is that OK? Should I call you that?

Lisa Barry:  Yeah, that's perfect. 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Congratulations on the new gig. How excited are you?

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: I was about to say I'm very excited. Yeah, it's a great opportunity. This particular planetarium has a long history, among those of us that know planetariums, has a long history of really great stuff. So I'm very excited. 

Lisa Barry: was excited to be in there before the pandemic when the museum first opened and see the planetarium. And it's pretty high-tech. Can you tell us about it? 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: It's a fully digital planetarium. We're running very, very modern, very top-of-the-line system here. And one of the things that is great about a fully digital planetarium is how versatile it is. And so, for instance, we are opening with "Expedition Reef" and "Sea Monsters," which are two shows focused about marine biology--in one case, prehistoric marine biology, the other and more modern. So, we still are a planetarium. We still run things you would expect in terrific visuals about, you know, the Orion Nebula and various galaxies we can just fly to. And we get these amazing views of those. We still do that. But because we're a fully digital planetarium, we can kind of branch out into other things as well. 

Lisa Barry:  Yeah. So, people are expecting to see stars and planets. And you're going underwater? 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Sometimes, yeah. We do. Every show will have at least a little bit of stars and planets and things. Don't get me wrong. You should expect to see those. But I like being able to offer biology shows, being able to offer, you know, more general physics shows. That's the beauty of a digital planetarium. 

Lisa Barry: So, I'm sort of moving backwards here in the interview. I should have asked you this to begin with. Tell us about yourself. What experience do you bring to the planetarium at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History? 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Sure, yeah. So, my background is actually in science education, and I've been in planetariums since 2008. Most recently, I spent the last seven years managing a very similar planetarium up in Flint: Longway Planetarium. And, because of that, because of my experience for the last, you know, a little more than a decade with public education and informal education--I'm a Ph.D. student in science education as well. And so, my research interests and what I really want to see this planetarium in the museum used for is increasing scientific literacy among our general public. I'm very passionate about that sort of thing. So it's a little bit about my background. 

Lisa Barry: You have some big shoes to fill. Matt Linke worked there for 32 years. 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Yes. And he's very well respected. 

Lisa Barry: Yeah. 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Not just in this area, but also, again, among the the general planetarium community knows the name Matt Linke. So you're not wrong. 

Lisa Barry: [00:03:06] So, you said education is your passion. What else are you looking forward to showing us in the planetarium?

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Yeah, so I'm doing a lot of revamping of the system and we also, our particular planetarium, one of the things that really draws me here is that a lot of our shows are run by student operators, University of Michigan students. And so, I'm revamping a lot of the sort of behind-the-scenes stuff to make getting to those amazing views, being able to see a 3D rendering of the Orion Nebula, being able to see the stars from somewhere besides the earth and what do constellations look like from, you know, 500 light years away and that kind of thing. I'm trying to make that easier to do on the fly, so that the student operators can actually show that very quickly, very easily as questions come up in a live show and empowering them to to be able to give those visuals. So, that's a lot of what I'm what I'm working on. 

Lisa Barry: And it seems like there's a lot of interest, maybe even renewed interest, in planetarium shows. I understand there was a shortage of telescopes when the pandemic was peaking?

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Yeah, yeah. Because a lot of people and that was something that here and elsewhere people in planetarium communities started pushing was that this is a naturally socially distant activity. You know, you have a backyard. If you have your own telescope, you can be looking at these things. So, yeah, a lot of people found a new hobby and a new passion when, you know, people are looking for silver linings with COVID. And one thing you could be doing is looking up at the night sky.

Lisa Barry: Will you be doing shows that correspond with what's actually happening in the night sky? 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark:  Absolutely, yeah. So every day at, let's see, we're running shows from 11:00 starting October 1st. We're running shows starting at eleven thirty, running through two thirty, so four shows a day. And the twelve thirty and two thirty shows are just live star talks which are focused on and the way that I tell my presenters is assume everyone in your audience is planning on going camping this weekend. You know, what do they need to know to be able to look up and find these things and that sort of thing. So, we are definitely still doing very focused on within the next, you know, so if you come here, you come to that live star talk, you're going to be seeing things that you could expect to actually see in the sky tonight, but also for the next three weeks, four weeks, you know what's coming up, that kind of thing. We're definitely going be doing that. 

Lisa Barry:  I don't want to gloss over. You said that's resuming October 1st. 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: October 1st. Yep. 

Lisa Barry: And you're talking to somebody who went to one of Michigan's dark parks during a full moon. So....

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Oh, no.

Lisa Barry: I imagine I finally got there and, oh, there's the moon. So.... 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Your timing could have been better. 

Lisa Barry: Yeah, that's right. So welcome, Jeffery "Buddy" Stark, new manager of the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History Planetarium and Dome Theater. Best of luck to you. 

Jeffery "Buddy" Stark: Thank you so much. 

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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