[Spotlight] HPU’s Culp Planetarium
By: Cassidy White
As High Point University continues to grow, a donation of $1 million from Rob and Susan Culp has made it possible to build a planetarium on campus. The newly opened, 128,000 square-foot Wanek School of Natural Sciences is a four-story undergraduate building that houses biology, chemistry and physics students with classrooms, labs and the planetarium.
For a long time, HPU’s President Nido Qubein, Ph.D., wanted to bring all of the elements to campus that supports science programs. The Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy, Congdon School of Health Sciences, Wanek School of Natural Sciences, Cane Conservatory and the Culp Planetarium were all part of the vision.
“The planetarium was an extension of that thinking,” Qubein said. “I don’t need to tell you to look at the beauty of this [campus]. You see it. You can’t run away from it. It is 360, all around [students] all day. I believe what this does is it enters the soul of our students, and it allows them to become naturally more innovative, naturally more desirous to make an impact in the world.”
The Culp Planetarium features a 50-foot dome with a 23-degree tilted angle. Covering 6,000 square feet, the planetarium contains dual laser-illuminated projectors, LED lighting, a 5.1 surround system with 125 reclining seats and writing tables.
“This is a place where any discipline on campus can learn – biology students, anatomy students, communication students,” Qubein said. “All of them can have specific software built for them. We built it in a way that all students can benefit from it. What the planetarium does is it brings to life learnings that some of us may not immediately be attracted to. It interprets the universe and all elements in it in ways that are amazingly applicable to every aspect of our life.”
Brad Barlow, Ph.D., is the director of Culp Planetarium and assistant professor of astrophysics. When Barlow had first heard talk of the possibility of a planetarium being built a few years ago, he was filled with excitement.
“I knew how revolutionary such a facility could be for our teaching,” Barlow said. “It was also clear how impactful the planetarium could be on our science outreach efforts in the community,” Barlow said. “Much of my introductory astronomy class focuses on the motions of the sun, moon, stars and planets in our sky. Before the planetarium, I would show my class static two-dimensional images when teaching this content. A lot of their learning leaned on students’ abilities to imagine what these motions would like the look. Now I can embed my students in any part of the solar system, galaxy, or universe that I want to. It really is transformational.”
Now, the Culp Planetarium is home to four science classes: Astronomy of the Stars, Galaxies, and the Cosmos; Environmental Science; Search for Life in the Universe; and Planetarium Operations.
Full-dome movies are shown every Friday in the planetarium and each week, students, faculty and staff can reserve their seat for a 20-30 minute movie. These movies cover topics such as coral reefs, black holes and dinosaurs. There will also be live astronomy shows in the planetarium that show the visibility of the night sky.
“I hope the planetarium helps students to experience that same awe-inspiring feeling that almost everyone experiences as a kid when looking at the night sky,” Barlow said.