Adler Staff Stars

Adler Staff Members pose for a group photo.
Adler President & CEO Michelle B. Larson, Ph.D., is this week's Adler Staff Star!

Michelle B. Larson, Ph.D.

President and CEO

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
One word sums up why I love working at the Adler – people. I am passionate about helping others awaken their explorer within, and I couldn’t think of a better group to work on that with than my talented colleagues. Whether by greeting you at the door, or helping you explore a distant world, my colleagues and the smiles they generate on the faces of our guests, make this place special every day.

What’s your fondest Adler memory?
One morning I was talking with a family at the Adler, and I asked if they were getting ready to explore the Solar System with us in our sky show. As they started to explain they were hoping to, their five-year-old daughter shared with me that she was too scared and so they couldn’t go. I talked to her about why she was scared, which had to do with space being dark, and asked if she’d be brave enough to try if I came along and sat next to her. She asked me some very good questions about what we were going to see, and if I really thought she would like it. I convinced her to give it a try, and she and I (and her family) made the journey together. Her joyful expression when we launched out of the space port and turned the ship around to see Earth from space was not only priceless, but radiated from her the entire trip. As we exited the theater, she gave me an energetic high-five and announced she is ready to go to space anytime!

What is one fun fact about you?
I have a 145 rubber ducky collection…and counting.

Astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz is this week's Adler Staff Star!

Lucianne Walkowicz

Astronomer

Why do you love working at the Adler?
I love working at the Adler because I get to pursue cutting-edge research while being an “Ambassador to the Stars!”

What is the most memorable thing you have done during your time at the Adler?
The Adler Galaxy Ride! Last fall a team of us created a biking science roadshow, where we cycled from Chicago to St. Louis as a way of mapping out distances in space. We put on free fun science events in cities and towns along the way, and made a lot of people really happy.

What is the most mind-boggling fact about space you know?
Did you know that all gold is created when stars die in gigantic explosions called supernovae? The fact the the Earth has enough gold for us to make jewelry out of means that the stuff our planet (and entire solar system) formed from was sprinkled with gold from a nearby stellar death explosion, billions and billions of years ago.

Manager of Program Development Kyle Sater is this week's Adler Staff Star!

Kyle Sater

Manager of Program Development

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
No two days are ever the same!

What’s your fondest Adler memory?
The Curiosity Landing Party we hosted in August 2012. It was amazing to share that experience with over 1,000 guests!

What does the Adler mission mean to you?
It means we’re all explorers, and have an innate desire to learn and expand our horizons. I like that.

What is the most memorable thing you have done during your time at the Adler?
That’s a tough one, but geeking out with hundreds of Star Wars fans (and some Stomtroopers) at our December 2015 Adler After Dark to celebrate the opening of The Force Awakens was up there on my list.

What goal do you have for the Adler in 2016?
To continue the great work we’re already doing, while bringing new, relevant, exciting content to even more audiences.

What do you like do to outside the Adler?
Spend time with my wife and our baby girl, read (and watch) classic sci-fi, travel, and running long distances “for fun.”

Master Educator Michelle Nichols is this week's Adler Staff Star

Michelle Nichols

Master Educator

Why do you love working at the Adler?
I am surrounded by amazing, enthusiastic colleagues, our programs are fun and innovative, and our visitors are the best because they are as geeked-out about science as we are! Who wouldn’t want to work here?

What is the most memorable thing you have done during your time at the Adler?
Watching a total solar eclipse from the deck of a ship in the Black Sea in 1999, along with about 150 other Adler members and others who came with the Adler group. It was an incredible experience!

Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome?
If you try to think of the strangest or most amazing place you can come up with, there’s probably a place in the Universe that is even stranger and more amazing!

What is the most mind-boggling fact about space you know?
The water that you drink is made of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. The atoms of hydrogen you are drinking were made in the Big Bang. The oxygen was made inside a star.

What do you like do to outside the Adler?
I love to garden and cook!

Facilitation Team Manager Michael Simms is this week's Adler Staff Star!

Michael Simms

Facilitation Team Manager

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
I love the people who come to the Adler. They are inherently cool people because they have decided to come to the Adler. I am especially humbled by the people who volunteer for the Adler. Not only do they all share a sense of curiosity, but they also want to share it with others. They are giving their time and energy in sharing a passion. They are incredible. They are living examples of what the Adler is all about.    

The other thing I love about the Adler is that we aren’t just one thing. We aren’t planetarium. We have three planetariums. We are a science center. We have artifacts that are true milestones in astronomy and space exploration, so we are also a history museum. With Planet Explorers and Young Explorers Mondays, we also have an element of being a childrens’ museum. But we are also an active research center. We have astronomers contributing to real scientific discoveries. What combines all of these varieties of things that we do is the way that each one invites people to actively  participate in the work we do. They come to join us in exploring our universe. That’s a very special place to work. 

What does the Adler mission mean to you?
It means that astronomy and space exploration really belongs to everyone, so why not join us in actively looking for answers in the universe? We’re here to ask you to join us in looking up. You have questions, so do we. You aren’t a visitor. You are our partner and collaborator. Let’s get together and explore what the answers might be.

What is the most mind-boggling fact about space you know?
I am fascinated that we have, as a species, spent thousands of years trying to figure out how everything around us has been made and works. We have spent hundreds of years building the periodic table, of figuring out what the elements are. And our understanding of physics and chemistry has allowed us to do amazing things as a result of our building a periodic table.

What is one fun fact about you?
I used to be an Elvis Impersonator at a furniture store that was the home of two Hawaiian potbelly pigs. Their names were Pearl and Pickles.

What do you like do to outside the Adler?
I like to give myself challenges to help me explore Chicago’s neighborhoods. Recently, I went on a two day mission to find the best taco in Chicago. Now I’m looking for the best pie. The great thing about it is that it takes to me to neighborhoods I normally wouldn’t visit. The neighborhoods never fail to spark my curiosity.

Curator of Experience Annie Vedder is this week's Adler Staff Star!

Annie Vedder

Curator of Experience

What’s your favorite exhibition or sky show at the Adler?
I love Destination Solar System! The visuals are breathtaking and the story is so much fun. Who doesn’t like to imagine space travel in the future?

What’s your fondest Adler memory?
My fondest Adler memory was meeting Captain and Mrs. Lovell. They are both amazing individuals who have done extraordinary things personally and professionally. It was an honor to meet them and share their story and experiences with our guests. 

Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome? 
Space is freaking awesome because it is weird…and scary…and different than anything we experience on Earth. I am definitely an Earth dweller, but the opportunity to wonder and discover the uniqueness of space is mind blowingly cool!

Senior Coordinator of STEM Teen Programs Nathalie Rayter is this week's Adler Staff Star!

Nathalie Rayter

Senior Coordinator of STEM Teen Programs

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
I work with the Adler’s suite of teen programs, which focus on STEM skills but are anything but limited to them. I love that I get the opportunity to work with youth-serving organizations from all across Chicago–from museums and libraries to community centers and arts organizations–to innovate new programs and projects. Just in the past month or so, I collaborated on an astrobiology-art-making workshop at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art and led a session at Hive Chicago Buzz, a learning landscape-focused hack day. There’s so much room for creativity and partnership.

 What’s your fondest Adler memory?
One of the ways that we involve our Adler teens behind the scenes is as Science Sommeliers. Students who have had multiple experiences in our programs volunteer to “serve” table-side science demonstrations to guests at various events. At last year’s Annual Meeting, our intern Alyssa did an awesome job of guiding a group of guests through completing a simple circuit using their hands. When she was finished, she came over to check in with me, and asked, “why was everyone taking pictures of that guy I was talking to?” Little did she know she was explaining basic physics to Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell!

What is the most memorable thing you have done during your time at the Adler?
The mentoring relationships that we build with our students are, to me, the most important thing we do. When a young person comes back after graduating high school, whether it’s to say that they’re doing great in college, or that they’re struggling and need support, I know that we’re doing our jobs because we’ve created a safe space for learning, exploration, and growth.

What do you like do to outside the Adler?
I both cook and read to the point of distraction. I also like to bike whenever I can, go to off-the-wall (and usually free) art and culture events, and explore as much as possible.

Director of Operations Thomas James is this week's Adler Staff Star!

Thomas James

Director of Operations

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
First, growing up in Chicago, I’d never imagined that I’d work at the Adler Planetarium and be a part of the Adler’s history and a member of a diverse team that is really focused on our visitors and sustaining the institution for the future. It is pretty amazing to work in a museum that attracts people from around the world and the common denominator for their visit being the fact that space is freaking awesome.

What is your fondest Adler memory?
In my two years at the Adler, I had a chance to witness some unforgettable events that I had not experienced ever. Two that particularly stick out to me took place last year. In September 2015, the Adler hosted a lunar eclipse event. While it was never certain that we could actually see anything due to the sky being clear or not, thousands of people showed up to the Adler in hopes of seeing it take place. It was pretty neat to see individuals and families come out and some even with their own personal telescopes and enjoy the experience. The other event took place in April 2015 when the Adler celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission and the opening of Mission Moon. It was such an inspiring experience to listen to Apollo 13 astronauts and support team talk in a panel discussion about the mission. It’s events like these that the Adler offers to the public and its members that are definitely memorable.

What goal do you have for the Adler in 2016?
To continue supporting the Adler and the many, many programs and events that take place each day. I’m regularly striving for sustainability and steering our daily efforts toward energy efficiency for our facility and supporting and enhancing the physical infrastructure is an ongoing goal. Overall, I want the physical building to be an awesome and safe place for our visitors and staff today and future years to come.

What is one fun fact about you?
I have 2 dogs: A Boston Terrier (Hugo) and a French Bull dog (Pepper). They keep things fun for me.

What do you like to do outside the Adler?
I like to travel with my wife. I’m kind of a foodie. Chicago definitely is a city that supports foodies.

STEAM Teen Community Coordinator Chris Bresky is this week's Adler Staff Star!

Chris Bresky

STEAM Teen Community Coordinator

What’s your fondest Adler memory?
The first time I ever saw Jupiter and the Galilean Moons was through the Doane Observatory telescope.. In that moment I felt as if I was connected to Galileo (who first discovered them).  There is an undeniable ability to time travel when you are looking at the stars – to see the light that was born with our ancestors.

What is the most memorable thing you have done during your time at the Adler?
Working with Adler Astronomers, Gayle Ratliff, Alissa Bans and Lucianne Walkowicz to create an extra terrestrial mask engineering workshop at the Intuit Center for Outsider Art.  We guided the engineering of aliens masks based on our knowledge of adaptation and astrobiology.  Each guest was given the environment of their planet and they built an alien that could survive in that environment. 

 What goal do you have for the Adler in 2016?
To bring STEM education to underserved areas of Chicago and to infuse more creative arts into science education as to inspire the STEM curiosity of all learners.

Guest Host Lead Jorge Arroyo is this week's Adler Staff Star!

Jorge Arroyo

Guest Host Lead

What does the Adler mission mean to you?
The Adler Planetarium does a great job inspiring and teaching visitors how our Universe works. I love being a part of this mission. For residents of Chicago, it’s especially difficult to see a sky filled with stars. By visiting the Adler, I think guests can get a better appreciation for all the amazing cosmic objects up there. Besides all of the technical duties and responsibilities that my job entails, the most important thing for me and my team to remember is that as soon as our visitors arrive and until they leave, we must do our best to ensure they have a great visitor experience.

Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome?
From the times of the earliest humans, it seems we’ve been fascinated with the stars in the sky. We were mesmerized by their aesthetic beauty. “What are those beautiful lights that moved in the night sky,” they must have thought. People created stories. They imagined human dramas and themes of life, love, and death playing out up in the cosmos. But throughout most of human civilization, we’ve actually had it wrong. It’s only been in couple hundred years that we’ve begun to truly understand how our Universe works. 

I love that one quote from Carl Sagan were he tells us we are star stuff. It’s amazing to think that the calcium in our bones and the iron in the blood that flows in our heart were once inside of stars. That what constitutes our bodies were once up there in the cosmos. Space is freaking awesome because from the earliest humans it’s been a part of our thoughts and our bodies. And I think that’s pretty cool.

What is one fun fact about you?
A new hobby that I’m just beginning is astrophotography! This summer I’m hoping to make a few trips away from all the light pollution in Chicago and head toward some country night skies to get some great shots. Hopefully I’ll be able to see the Milky Way! Growing up in Chicago, I never had a great view of a star filled sky, so now, I love spending as much time as I can under dark night skies. My goal for the summer is to run the gamut and get at least one great photograph from a planet, nebula, and galaxy. 

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
Anytime I want I can go see the night sky in one of our theaters. That’s a pretty cool perk.

Adler Staff Star Latoya Flowers, Digital Content Producer

Latoya Flowers

Digital Content Producer

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
I love that I’m able to use my background in documentary filmmaking as a tool to create space science content. I produce and edit videos for the Adler Planetarium’s exhibitions and website. Working with our Far Horizons, Astronomy, and Collection teams is a fun experience because I get to learn something new for each project. I definitely have my dream job.

What’s your favorite exhibition or sky show at the Adler? 
Currently, my favorite exhibition is the ‘Community Design Lab.’ The lab is a fun and creative space where you can build a DIY telescope mount for your smartphone or test a parachute made out of coffee filters and popsicle sticks. It’s a great space to have fun, test your ideas, and make mistakes. 

What’s your fondest Adler memory?
Working on the ‘Mission Moon’ exhibition is one of my fondest memories. I had the privilege of editing a series of short videos, featuring archival footage from Apollo 8, Apollo 11, and the Gemini Space Missions for the exhibition. It took several months to screen the archival footage and structure the edits as if you were watching the missions in real-time. Meeting the astronauts and mission control crew at the Adler’s 45
th Apollo XIII Anniversary was an awesome experience.

What does the Adler mission mean to you?
Making science accessible for everyone.

What is the most memorable thing you have done during your time at the Adler?
I enjoy attending the Far Horizons missions as a photographer to capture our high-altitude balloon launches. It’s awesome to see kids and adults get excited while tracking the balloon for retrieval.

Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome? 
Space is freaking awesome because it’s constantly evolving and we still have so much to discover in our Universe.

What goal do you have for the Adler in 2016?
My goal for 2016 is to continue producing story-driven video content for our viewers.

What is one fun fact about you?
I’ve traveled to eight countries in the last two years. This year I’m excited to scratch Machu Picchu, Peru, off my bucket list!

What do you like do to outside the Adler?
I’m really into watching comic book movies and TV shows, especially Gotham.

This week's Adler Staff Star is Adler Astronomer and Doane Observatory Director Larry Ciupik!

Larry Ciupik

Astronomer and Doane Observatory Director

Name: Larry Ciupik

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
I am very privileged to work with a “freaking awesome” team of staff and volunteers! In addition, I really enjoy seeing all the changes to the Adler exhibits and shows and participating in those changes as my role at the Adler evolved. It’s amazing to me that the Adler has quadrupled in size since I started working here!

What’s your favorite exhibition or sky show at the Adler?
Two of my favorites are in the ’Telescopes’ exhibit, where we display what was once the largest telescope in the world as well a telescope built by William Herschel, who discovered the planet Uranus.

What is the most memorable thing you have done during your time at the Adler?
I was privileged to be the first Director of the Doane Observatory back in 1977, and, now that I’m again in that role, it gave me immense satisfaction to help plan the renovations that changed the crawlspace below the telescope into a multi-purpose room for teen programs, Adler After Dark, remote observing, and moreand we’re still working to improve it!

What is the most mind-boggling fact about space you know?
The freaking awesome size of the Universe and all that it contains boggles my mind. Manyif not mostof the the 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy stars probably have planets…and the Universe visible with the largest telescopes contains 100 billion galaxies… and that’s only what we see out to our horizon!  Beyond are countless others we may never see!

What is one fun fact about you?
I married someone who once worked for the Adler and I have worked at the Adler full-time since 1971, and that’s more than half the museum’s existence (longer than anyone else in the museum’s history)!

What do you like do to outside the Adler?
I enjoy traveling, photography, hiking, and canoeing.

This week's Adler Staff Star is Reservations Coordinator Liza Trevino!

Liza Treviño

Reservations Coordinator

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
I enjoy talking to people. Period. I love hearing the joy that comes out of visitors after expressing how wonderful our shows and exhibitions are. I also love how the Adler has transformed with new exhibitions, our Grainger Sky Theater, and shows, including our newest one, Planet Nine!

Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome?
“Space is Freaking Awesome” is when you see the expression on visitors’ faces when they see Saturn’s rings through a telescope—they are excited and wowed by the experience. I got to witness this at our Annual Perseid Meteor Shower Star Party, happening again this August.

What is one fun fact about you?
I’m a wonderful cook, baker, and drive a convertible classic Mustang!

What do you like to do outside the Adler?
I enjoy reading and taking long drives through the Magnificent Mile and Lake Shore Drive in my Mustang.

This week's Adler Staff Star is Mark SubbaRao!

Mark SubbaRao, Ph.D.

Astronomer and Director of the Space Visualization Laboratory

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
I’m really lucky to do what I’m passionate about: Sharing what we know about the the Universe and finding new ways to do that more effectively.

What’s your favorite exhibition or sky show at the Adler?
I refuse to answer that—it’s like choosing between my children! Right now we are really proud of Planet NineCosmic Wonder was also very special because we created a new type of planetarium show. The Space Visualization Laboratory is central to everything we create because of the direct feedback we get from visitors.

What’s your fondest Adler memory?
Once, when I was sitting on the 146 bus waiting to go home, I met a couple who had just gotten married. They had walked all the way from City Hall to Adler after their wedding only to find it closed. So, I took them in after-hours and gave them and gave them a private tour.

What does the Adler mission mean to you?
As an Astronomer, we’re privileged to be part of the great endeavor of expanding humanity’s knowledge. Communicating our progress in that quest is what Adler is all about.

What is the most memorable thing you have done during your time at the Adler?
Giving a private tour to NASA Astronaut Captain Jim Lovell, his son, and grandson—that was pretty awesome.

Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome?
The Universe is BIG, incredibly, mind bogglingly BIG. 

What goal do you have for the Adler in 2016?
We are doing some really cutting-edge science communication work at the Adler, and I’d like to make more people aware of this—from people in Chicagoland to our museum colleagues around the world.

What is one fun fact about you?
I was born on April Fools Day!

What do you like do to outside the Adler?
I’m a foodie, and enjoy exploring the great ethnic foods we have in Chicago.

This week's Adler Staff Star is Mark Hammergren!

Mark Hammergren

Astronomer

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
I love sharing the excitement of my asteroid research with the public. There have even been times when we’ve observed asteroids through our telescope in New Mexico in front of a live public audience, and some visitors were the first ones to spot our target asteroids.

What’s your favorite exhibition or sky show at the Adler?
I love our meteorites! There aren’t too many subjects in astronomy that you can actually touch with your own hands. The meteorites all have such interesting stories behind them, tooespecially our Park Forest meteorite that punched its way completely through a house, from roof to basement.

What’s your fondest Adler memory?
A few years ago, the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after me. Later on at an Adler event, astronaut Capt. James Lovell came up to me, congratulated ME for my asteroid, then started telling stories from his time aboard Apollo 8 as the spacecraft rounded the Moon. I almost had to pinch myself to see if this was really happening.

What does the Adler mission mean to you?
It is a amazing experience to bring to life Max Adler’s vision for the Planetarium: “To further the progress of science, to guide to an understanding of the majesty of the heavens, to emphasize that under the great celestial firmament there is order, interdependence and unity.”

What is the most memorable thing you have done during your time at the Adler?
I presented my asteroid research at a conference at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, and followed that up with an expedition to hunt for meteorites in the middle of the Nubian Desert. I found eight fragments of a unique type of meteorite on that trip.

Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome?
Studying space means that we study the universe and everything in it, including stuff right here on Earth. Everything is related to astronomy in some way: geology, biology, art and culture…everything is connected.

What is the most mind-boggling fact about space you know?
There are more stars in the Universe than all the grains of sand on all the world’s beaches, but there are more molecules in a single grain of sand than stars in the Universe.

What is one fun fact about you?
I was the first westerner to board a Russian Navy ship at sea. I was brought there on a helicopter in gale force winds by a pilot who had never landed on a ship before. I did this as a consultant for the first Russian commercial space launch in 1992, and I participated in the recovery of an uncrewed space capsule that splashed down in the North Pacific.

What do you like do to outside the Adler?
My favorite hobbies are rockhounding and fossil hunting. I’ve panned gold at Sutter’s Mill, found emeralds, rubies and sapphires in North Carolina, and excavated dinosaurs in Montana.

Pedro M. P. Raposo, DPhil

Curator

What do you enjoy most about working at the Adler?
Working with a world-class historical collection. A normal work day for me might involve preparing the oldest telescope located in America for an exhibit, browsing a book by Johannes Kepler signed by Kepler himself, or talking about astrolabes using a 12th-century astrolabe. 

What’s your favorite exhibition or sky show at the Adler?
That’s difficult to tell. What I really like about the Adler’s offerings is their diversity. On a single day at the Adler, guests can attend one great sky show or more, talk to an astronomer or a curator, tackle an engineering challenge, take a close look at beautiful and rare historic artifacts, and much more. The Adler is a great place to learn about the past, the present and the future of astronomy and space science, and there is always something particularly engaging for everyone.  Though if push comes to shove: I especially love the Atwood Sphere, the Medieval Classroom in Astronomy in Culture, and Planet Nine

What’s your fondest Adler memory?
Looking at 17th-century Moon maps in the company of Captain Jim Lovell. Studying the history of lunar cartography cannot get any better than that. 

What goal do you have for the Adler in 2016?
Make the Adler’s collection ever more visible and accessible while making sure that our wonderful instruments, books, and other artifacts are properly preserved so that the future generations will also have the chance to appreciate them.  

What do you like do to outside the Adler?
Indulge in my musical passions – collect LPs, look for that great obscure band or record, play the guitar, and go to concerts.