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The Aquarius Project Podcast: Episode 4

Adler Teens, Behind the Scenes

Header image: The Aquarius Project sled in all its (current) glory.

New to the Aquarius Project? Start here! (Really, go. This post will make a lot more sense once you’re caught up.)


I am pleased to announce that the fourth installment of the Aquarius Project Podcast is available now!

The Aquarius Project sled did not emerge, fully formed, from anyone’s imagination. It is the product of many drafts, sketches, prototypes, design ideas that sounded really good but ultimately did not work, epiphanies, happy accidents, and elbow grease (listen to the episode for details!). Our plan was to spend the whole episode telling you about the sled, but something project leader Chris Bresky said to producer Erin Kahoa and me led us down a side street that ended up being a big part of our story.

Project leader Chris Bresky (right) tries to reassemble a sled prototype from 2017 while podcast producer Erin Kahoa records.
Project leader Chris Bresky (right) tries to reassemble a sled prototype from 2017 while podcast producer Erin Kahoa records.

Chris was showing Erin and me the oldest, wobbliest, duct-tape-iest version of the sled, trying to remember where all the pieces had come from and where the missing ones had gone. In between reminiscing about the sled’s humble beginnings and squeezing the duct tape together at the joints, he mentioned that someone in the Adler’s collections department had told him to hang onto this prototype because the museum might want to keep it.

The idea that this broken down pile of pipes might end up in a glass case (like some kind of shimmering bespoke astrolabe made for a medieval king) sounded so ridiculous to us that we recruited Chris Helms, the Adler’s collections manager, to tell us why anyone—especially a museum with one of the world’s finest astronomy collections—would give it a second look.

He told us it wasn’t ridiculous at all. Even a venerated astronomer like Galileo was once an amateur telescope maker, and his oldest handmade telescopes are now so valuable and rare that even the replicas are glass-case material.

Talking to Chris H. also got me thinking about themes that tie this episode together: Not only how the Aquarius Project fits so neatly into the DIY history of astronomy, but the way history itself is made of objects. Take a good look at anything—a rock, a book, a phone, a shiny old astrolabe, anything—and start asking questions. You’ll find enough stories to last a lifetime.

From left, Adler teens Carmen Jones, Giovanna Rossi, and Jack Morgan show off an important piece of technology they all helped create. Listen to the Aquarius Project Podcast to find out what it is!
From left, Adler teens Carmen Jones, Giovanna Rossi, and Jack Morgan show off an important piece of technology they all helped create. Listen to the Aquarius Project Podcast to find out what it is!

Hope you enjoy the episode as much as we enjoyed making it!

Subscribe to the Aquarius Project Podcast!
Soundcloud | iTunes | Stitcher

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Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM Series: Meet Sydney

Bianca Anderson Behind the Scenes

“Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM” is a new series on The Adler ’Scope that highlights the awesome women of Chicago who are doing amazing things in science, technology, engineering, art, and math fields here in our own community. Meet women of varying ages, backgrounds, and interests and learn their unique stories.


Sydney Chatman
Theater Educator at University of Chicago Charter School

Sydney Chatman

You have been a theater educator at the University of Chicago Charter School for the past 15 years. Have there been any noticeable changes in the industry since you began teaching?

There have been important and significant changes in teaching theater. For one, there is now a statewide plan in place to support art teachers through aligning curricula, and offering professional development and grant opportunities through companies like Ingenuity Arts. We are moving past the idea that the arts is just a measure for performance and looking at how the arts truly affect and develop the whole student.

As board member of the African-American Arts Alliance of Chicago, what has been the most rewarding aspect(s) of your role?

As a board member, I enjoy meeting so many talented and creative artists in Chicago. Not just in theater but in all artistic disciplines. It’s inspiring and rewarding to support their artistic growth and recognize their artistic merit, through the Black Excellence Awards.

In the United States, women and people of color have fewer work opportunities and make lower salaries both on and Off-Broadway. How have you made sense of this inequality? Have you encountered obstacles that have challenged you from pursuing a career in theater? How have you overcome them?

Salaries are not the only disproportionate inequality in theater. My career in theater has been an arduous journey. As a Black woman director with integrity, I find that it takes women like me longer. We are often overlooked and offered work beneath our skill level. The industry can be selective in supporting “unknown” artists because of the proximity to or away from certain higher institutions. For me, the idea is to constantly create. I take the opportunities that will serve my spirit and my creativity. But I never wait, I create my own work, find ways to connect to my community, and stay true to my mission of serving Black women, young ladies, and girls. Money can only do so much for you—it can’t teach you how to love, nurture, and mentor the ones coming behind you. I won’t lie to you and say it’s been easy. But the support from my family and my school has given me the opportunity to continue to be both an artist and a teacher.

Your play Black Girls (Can) Fly highlights a Chicago girl named Bessie Mae who overcomes obstacles and empowers herself to fly. What was your inspiration behind creating this story?

Young Actors from Sydney’s play Black Girls (Can) Fly
Photo Credit: Marc Monaghan

My mother always wanted my sisters and I to love and protect each other. I wanted to write a play to honor her, my five sisters, my nieces, my grandmother, chemistry, science fiction, space, history, Bessie Coleman, and Dr. Mae Jemison! I love learning about Black history and I also love science. In high school, I was known for carrying my chemistry book around… everywhere! I’d even bring it to family and church gatherings. I’d be in a corner converting moles and molecules. I also love science fiction and dreamed of studying quantum physics, but somehow, theater became my way of self-expression. I wanted to combine all of those interests into a play that girls like my 9 and 8-year-old nieces (at the time) would love to be a part of and be able to see themselves on stage. Black girls matter and Black representation matters!

Recently, you were appointed the 2019 Michael Maggio Directing Fellow at Goodman Theatre, an honor reserved for early-career Chicago-based directors. What does this mean for your career and where you’ll be headed next?

I am so grateful for the opportunity to observe and learn from the Goodman Theatre, and the highly skilled practitioners who make great art happen in Chicago. I think this opportunity will support the work that I continue to do in my South Side community. It will empower me to pass down what I’ve learned into my own company, The Tofu Chitlin’ Circuit. The experience will help me organize and plan opportunities for Black girls to empower their voices through theater, dance, and music. I’m looking forward to securing a space for theater that includes dance, gardening, learning languages, meditation, music, and science. This space will be epic!

Photo Credit: NASA

AstroFan: Reimagining the Origins of the Moon with Synestia

Bianca Anderson Astronomy

Hello again! Welcome to the second installment of our AstroFan series! This month’s topic focuses on Synestia, a molten HOT new theory regarding the origins of our Moon. If you’re like me and love action-packed collisions, then buckle up and enjoy this trip back in time to proto-Earth!


A few weeks ago a colleague and I were shocked to discover the grisly nature of metamorphosis.

The conversation went something like this:

“You mean to tell me that caterpillars digest themselves, and essentially become caterpillar SOUP in their cocoons?!” I asked incredulously.

“Yep! They just turn into mushy-gobbledygook, rebuild themselves, and then voila butterfly,” replied Carly (our Content Specialist here at the Adler).

“That’s insane! Who knew butterflies were so hardcore?!” I exclaimed, filled with chagrin at the realization that I had completely misunderstood the whole caterpillar to butterfly process for the last 24 years of my life.



I bet you’re wondering why I chose to start off with an anecdote about the butterfly’s life cycle!

WELL, there is a brand new theory about our Moon’s formation, called Synestia, that oddly enough, mirrors a butterfly’s metamorphosis.

In order to fully understand Synestia, we’ll need to start at the beginning. It’s important to have a grasp on the way things were in our early Solar System (and by early I mean 4.5 BILLION years ago).

To sum it up: things were extremely chaotic! Our early Solar System was packed with planets and debris, making collisions a constant reality. These destructive events, driven by gravity, aided in the shaping and molding of our Solar System into what it currently looks like today.

Which brings us to proto-Earth (Earth at an early stage of its development) and our early Moon!

For years, astronomers have been working to figure out just how our celestial neighbor, the Moon, came to be. The long-standing theory of Moon formation has been the Giant Impact Hypothesis. In this model, proto-Earth suffered a collision with a Mars-sized planet called Thea. According to this hypothesis, the impact caused material to be ejected out and the Moon formed from the material!

Although this hypothesis has been the leading model for over a decade, there is one question in particular that it has a hard time answering: Why are the Earth and the Moon composed of such similar material?

The issue with the Giant Impact Hypothesis is that the simulations for it point to the Moon being formed mostly from Thea. This would in turn lead to a Moon that doesn’t have such a strikingly similar composition to Earth—which is not the case (at all).

In 2018, scientists Simon Lock and Sarah Stewart proposed an alternate theory for Moon formation, Synestia, that worked to rectify some of the shortcomings of the long-standing Giant Impact Hypothesis.

The proposed collision in the Synestia model goes something like this (as seen in the Adler’s new sky show Imagine the Moon):

I. Proto-Earth, spinning so fast that it has an oblong shape.

II. Proto-Earth makes impact with a planet named Thea. The collision has such a high angular momentum that 10% of the Earth’s rock is vaporized and the rest becomes liquified.

(Fun Fact: One of the cool things about Synestia is that it allows for lots of different types of collisions with different mass ratios to work! Unlike the Giant Impact Hypothesis, which requires a Mars-sized planet!)

III. And VOILA Synestia forms: a high-speed, spinning object of molten and gaseous material—which also happens to be in the shape of a donut (yum)!

Once a Synestia forms, it can be segmented into two main parts: an inner and an outer region. As a Synestia cools, a “seed” of liquid rock begins to form from within, as vaporized rock condenses and falls (a.k.a magma rain), the seed begins to grow and eventually becomes our Moon. The rest of the material left behind becomes Earth.

This whole process happens in the cosmic blink of an eye! Some estimate that Synestias exist for just a century.

Unlike the Giant Impact Hypothesis, Synestia explains why the Earth and Moon are so similar in composition—it’s because they were formed from the same material!

Isn’t it cool to think that our planet and Moon formed as a result of such a cataclysmic event?

Just like the caterpillar, our Moon was able to experience a sort of rebirth, in a cocoon of its own debris (or shall we say its own gobbledygook). Kind of poetic, don’t you think?

Stay tuned for more awesome space facts on the next AstroFan.

Thank you for reading!

Bianca a.k.a AstroFan

Adler Staff Star: Meet Meredith!

Behind the Scenes

Meredith Stepien
Experience Developer

Experience Developer—that’s a pretty fun title! Can you tell us about your role and what you do here at the Adler?
I’m a creative developer in the Adler’s Guest Experience department! I design experiences through programming and exhibitions.

March is Women’s History Month. Who are some of the women who have been most influential in your life? 
JANE AUSTEN!!! For life!!! I love reading her books and thinking about feminism in the Regency era. I wish I could go back in time to visit her! Then I could also meet Caroline Herschel, another amazing femme regency heroine!

The non-regency women I love are all musicians, since I’m a musician too! Kimbra, Emily King, Beyonce, Lucius, and Tune Yards—to name a few.

Aside from your role here at the Adler, we hear that you are also an actor with the critically acclaimed StarKid production group!? What has been your greatest memory made while acting for them? 
I have so many memories with StarKid, it’s hard to pick one! Something I’m most proud of is the music I wrote for Firebringer, which has turned into one of our most popular musicals! I also just love traveling with StarKid and meeting fans of our work. It’s the best!

If you had the opportunity to take a 10-year-trip to Mars, would you do it? Why or why not?
No… I like my home planet too much, and I’m also pretty scared of space! I LOVE Star Trek, but often think about how scary it must be to live on the Enterprise and deal with red alerts all the time and also have to deal with new aliens that are scary in infinite ways every day. I’d just be hanging out in the holodeck pretending to be back on Earth on the beach all day!

Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome?
Space is freaking awesome because of the infinite possibilities it offers. I LOVE thinking about how things form, and how things could change or be different elsewhere in the universe. It’s SO BIG! Thinking about the Universe helps center me!

Far Horizons Web Comic: Meet Defiance

Webcomic: A Balloon’s Journey to the Edge of Space

Reyhaneh (Rey) Maktoufi Astronomy, Behind the Scenes

The following is a webcomic created by Adler Visiting Researcher, Reheynah (Rey) Maktoufi! In this comic, you’ll meet Defiance, a payload box, who is about to journey to the edge of space with the Adler’s Far Horizons‘ team!


In loving memory of Poppy

Defiance remembers Poppy earlier that day in Stratosphere:

Michelle Nichols - Telescope

Adler Skywatch: March 2019

Karen Donnelly Astronomy

Get ready to move your clocks ahead an hour and to welcome the season of Spring this month—March 2019.

Daylight Saving Time starts this year on the 10th at 2:00 a.m. local time. Move your clocks ahead one hour on this date. We’ll get that hour back on November 3, when Daylight Saving Time ends for the year.

The vernal equinox, marking the start of the spring season in the northern hemisphere, occurs this month on the 20th at 4:58 p.m. Central Daylight Time.

In planetary action this month, look for Mars in the west-southwest skies about an hour after sunset. The evening of the 11th, it appears a few degrees to the right of a waxing crescent Moon. The last few days of the month, Mars appears near the Pleiades, a small, twinkling cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus. The “Red Planet” gets a little less bright every evening this month, since Earth is moving away from Mars in space. It sets in the west-northwest around midnight Central-Time.

Several planets are visible before sunrise this month. About four hours before dawn, the planet Jupiter is rising in the southeast sky, shining brighter than any of the stars around it. It’s near the dark side of a waning gibbous Moon the morning of the 27th.

About 90 minutes before sunrise, when Jupiter is slightly higher in the south-southeast, the planet Saturn is just above the southeast horizon. It’s not as bright as Jupiter, but still readily visible in a clear sky. Saturn appears near a waning crescent Moon the mornings of the 1st and the 29th.

Finally, as morning twilight brightens the sky, the brilliant planet Venus shines low in the east-southeast. The first two mornings of the month, Venus appears about 15 degrees to the lower-left of Saturn, with a slim waning crescent Moon nearby. But as the days pass, Venus rises later in the morning and moves further north along the horizon—and, thus, also appears to move further away from Saturn in the sky. By the end of the month, the two planets appear 45 degrees apart.

The planet Mercury appears so close to the Sun this month that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to see.

New Moon: March 6th
First Quarter Moon: March 14th
Full Moon: March 20th
Last Quarter Moon: March 27th

Please note: these descriptions are for the Chicago area, using Central time.

The Aquarius Project Podcast: Episode 4

Aubrey Henretty Adler Teens, Behind the Scenes

Header image: The Aquarius Project sled in all its (current) glory.

New to the Aquarius Project? Start here! (Really, go. This post will make a lot more sense once you’re caught up.)


I am pleased to announce that the fourth installment of the Aquarius Project Podcast is available now!

The Aquarius Project sled did not emerge, fully formed, from anyone’s imagination. It is the product of many drafts, sketches, prototypes, design ideas that sounded really good but ultimately did not work, epiphanies, happy accidents, and elbow grease (listen to the episode for details!). Our plan was to spend the whole episode telling you about the sled, but something project leader Chris Bresky said to producer Erin Kahoa and me led us down a side street that ended up being a big part of our story.

Project leader Chris Bresky (right) tries to reassemble a sled prototype from 2017 while podcast producer Erin Kahoa records.
Project leader Chris Bresky (right) tries to reassemble a sled prototype from 2017 while podcast producer Erin Kahoa records.

Chris was showing Erin and me the oldest, wobbliest, duct-tape-iest version of the sled, trying to remember where all the pieces had come from and where the missing ones had gone. In between reminiscing about the sled’s humble beginnings and squeezing the duct tape together at the joints, he mentioned that someone in the Adler’s collections department had told him to hang onto this prototype because the museum might want to keep it.

The idea that this broken down pile of pipes might end up in a glass case (like some kind of shimmering bespoke astrolabe made for a medieval king) sounded so ridiculous to us that we recruited Chris Helms, the Adler’s collections manager, to tell us why anyone—especially a museum with one of the world’s finest astronomy collections—would give it a second look.

He told us it wasn’t ridiculous at all. Even a venerated astronomer like Galileo was once an amateur telescope maker, and his oldest handmade telescopes are now so valuable and rare that even the replicas are glass-case material.

Talking to Chris H. also got me thinking about themes that tie this episode together: Not only how the Aquarius Project fits so neatly into the DIY history of astronomy, but the way history itself is made of objects. Take a good look at anything—a rock, a book, a phone, a shiny old astrolabe, anything—and start asking questions. You’ll find enough stories to last a lifetime.

From left, Adler teens Carmen Jones, Giovanna Rossi, and Jack Morgan show off an important piece of technology they all helped create. Listen to the Aquarius Project Podcast to find out what it is!
From left, Adler teens Carmen Jones, Giovanna Rossi, and Jack Morgan show off an important piece of technology they all helped create. Listen to the Aquarius Project Podcast to find out what it is!

Hope you enjoy the episode as much as we enjoyed making it!

Subscribe to the Aquarius Project Podcast!
Soundcloud | iTunes | Stitcher

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