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Our Next Giant Leap

posted Sunday February 14, 2010

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a $1.5 million gift from GlaxoSmithKline, supporting the conversion of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center's historic Star Theater from analog to fulldome digital video technology.

In recognition of the gift, the theater will be renamed the GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater. University officials announced the gift and renaming on Jan. 26 at an event at the planetarium.

"GlaxoSmithKline has stepped forward with an extraordinary gift to advance Morehead Planetarium and Science Center’s mission," UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said.

The transformative gift extends a long history of GlaxoSmithKline support for educational programs at Morehead, including planetarium shows "Magic Tree House Space Mission" and "Destination: Space"; "Science in the Summer" enrichment camps at community sites throughout central North Carolina; the movie "DNA: The Secret of Life"; and "Science LIVE!" demonstration programs.

"GlaxoSmithKline is committed to making positive contributions to the communities where employees live and work and to invest in health and education programs," said Janice Whitaker, GSK senior vice president for quality, global manufacturing and supply.

"We are pleased to award this gift in support of Morehead's efforts to transform the Star Theater. We hope this gift will help a historic science resource continue to develop and fuel a love of science and the stars in millions more visitors."

Other speakers at the gift announcement included N.C. Speaker of the House Joe Hackney and Gerald "Rudy" Rudisill Jr., deputy chief secretary of the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. Third-grade students from McDougle Elementary School in Carrboro and Charles E. Perry Elementary School in Roseboro were the first schoolchildren in North Carolina to watch a fulldome digital video planetarium show at Morehead.

The new fulldome digital video technology is a world-class projection system that puts Morehead in the same class as the National Museum of Air and Space, the American Museum of Natural History and the Griffith Observatory.

"For Morehead, this is truly our next giant leap," said Todd Boyette, Morehead director. "We're grateful to GlaxoSmithKline for making this possible."

Morehead visitors will experience the new technology directly through super-high-definition 4000-by-4000 pixel resolution, a 5.1 channel digital surround sound system and reconfigured seating for better sight lines. Fulldome digital video creates an immersive environment in which each visitor is surrounded by the sights and sounds of the planetarium show.

Because fulldome digital video technology is a standard format that many planetariums share, Morehead can lease shows from other planetariums to expand its offerings. The spring schedule for the GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater includes the planetarium shows "Astronaut" from the National Space Centre in England and "Black Holes: Journey into the Unknown" from Museum Victoria in Australia.

Morehead can also enhance its revenue by leasing its own shows to other planetariums. A new version of Morehead’s popular "Earth, Moon and Sun" planetarium show, recreated for fulldome digital video, has already been leased to four other planetariums in the United States and is under consideration for lease by planetariums in Brazil and Hong Kong.

The theater, closed for the month of January for the installation, will open to the public Feb. 5 as the GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater. It is the largest fulldome installation in the southeastern United States. Morehead expects more than 160,000 visitors, including nearly 85,000 schoolchildren, during the next year.