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Mapping the Cretaceous Sky in SUE’s New Exhibit

When Chicago icon SUE the T. rex had a new exhibit designed, our very own Nick Lake used his expertise and Adler’s technology to map what a Cretaceous sky might have looked like in SUE’s time. Don’t expect to see the Big Dipper – SUE’s night sky would look very different than ours today. How does one map a prehistoric sky? Read on!


How would the stars have looked to a T. rex walking around 66 million years ago? Last year, the Field Museum contacted Adler looking to collaborate on their new SUE exhibit, specifically including a section of the Cretaceous night sky in the video projections. But how to create such a sky?

In our Grainger and Definiti theaters, we run planetarium software called Digistar (developed by Evans & Sutherland). In day-to-day usage, it most often shows the sky as it will look tonight for our Skywatch Live show. It has the capability, though, to not only show the stars as they appear from anywhere on Earth, but to accurately map their locations and movements within the Milky Way galaxy, allowing us to show how they would have appeared in the past or future.  

As stars orbit the Milky Way they move at different speeds and directions. Over shorter periods of time this isn’t noticeable to the naked eye; the night sky we see would look pretty familiar to ancient Egyptians. But over longer timescales the motion is much more apparent, so a night sky from even 100,000 years ago would be unrecognizable to us.  

In these animations (created in Digistar) we are rewinding time 150,000 years. Even that relatively short period of time renders the Teapot in Sagittarius (a bright pattern to look for in the sky) and the Big Dipper unrecognizable. Going back that far is barely stepping into yesterday in geologic timescales; extrapolate that 400x further back in time and you can imagine how truly different the night sky would have looked in the late Cretaceous. To create that Cretaceous sky, why not just rewind even further?

The best current measurements of star positions and velocities have limitations, and small errors today become huge errors compounded over millions of years. Two stars passing each other, even at very large distances, will be affected by gravity and their velocities will be slightly altered. These small changes can add up to a tremendous amount of uncertainty in star position and motion over long periods. Over time periods longer than, say, 5 million years, the circular orbit of stars around the Milky Way Galaxy becomes significant, adding a third dimension to what had been a fairly linear problem. The Sun takes 230 million years to orbit the Milky Way, so in the last 66 millions years it has gone through roughly a quarter orbit. Adding all these effects together, with current data there is no way to know with high accuracy what the sky would have looked like for SUE.  

The Cretaceous night sky as it appears in SUE’s new exhibit space.

We can, however, say with certainty that SUE would not have looked up and seen the Big Dipper or Orion. As long as I went back in time far enough that an avid stargazer couldn’t visit the exhibit and pick out a recognizable pattern of stars, I could call it a Cretaceous sky. At the same time, though, I wanted to maintain a sky with a realistic distribution of bright and dim stars.  I had a lot of fun playing with the time slider in our planetarium software looking for interesting patterns that emerged. The eventual starfield included an interesting clustering of fairly bright stars low on the horizon, which I was glad to see they maintained in the eventual animation. Slight clumping and clustering like that gives a lot of visual interest to the scene and allows guests to look more closely and see what else can be found.

“Looking up” at Adler doesn’t often involve a lone Triceratops lumbering out of the tree-line or a gigantic dragonfly hovering in front of one’s face, but having the sky and some occasional stars visible during those interactions at the Field adds an extra layer of immersion to an experience with SUE that is not to be missed.

SUE in the brand-new exhibit with the night sky display in the background!

Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM Series: Meet Sydney

“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!

AstroFan: Reimagining the Origins of the Moon with Synestia

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!

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!

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

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:

Adler Skywatch: March 2019

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

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

Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM Series: Meet Stacey

“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.


Dr. Stacey Dixon
Director, Student Veteran Support Services
National Louis University

Dr.Stacey Dixon | Chicago's Black Women in STEAM Series
Dr. Stacey Dixon

What first sparked your interest in Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC)?
I have always been interested in science. All through school, I excelled in both science and math. However, those courses were not stressed as STEM or STEAM during that time (early eighties). We were more driven towards the world of business with programs like Junior Achievement and others similar. Though I participated in them at the urging of my parents and teachers, it was not my passion. When I joined the military, the only fields available to women were in administration or the supply field. I spent my first enlistment doing something that did not excite me, and decided to leave the Marine Corps after six years. I was then offered the opportunity to transfer into the field of Meteorology and Oceanography because someone noticed that I had received high scores on the ASVAB (a test used by the military to measure an applicant’s suitability for enlistment), mainly in the fields of science, electronics, and math. The field was very small, competitive, challenging, and intensive—and I loved it. Except there were very few females (and none of color) in the field at the time, which made it difficult at times.

You were the first female Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC) Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps (SO amazing). Could you tell us a bit more about what it was like taking on such a groundbreaking role?
In the military, especially the Marine Corps, women are almost always outnumbered. In METOC, the number of women in the field was even smaller. Our customer base was mostly infantry, artillery, and aviation: all male-dominated fields. Working with mostly male officers, not of color in these fields, they rarely took my work and/or briefings seriously. I was often challenged on my forecasts and intelligence briefings or they would ask the male officer or even another enlisted male to confirm my data and analysis.

For me to become an equal and gain the credibility I deserved, I needed to become an officer like them. In 1990, I submitted my first package for the Warrant Officer Program, a program that promotes you from enlisted to officer. A special kind of officer: one with years of technical experience and leadership in their field. In February 2000, I was promoted to Warrant Officer; after ten years, ten applications, and a lot of pushback. It was groundbreaking, though few acknowledged it. The challenges continued to come, but I now had leverage—and I used it. Eventually, the respect for the work I did was acknowledged by others. But I first had to acknowledge for myself how this precedence would change the outlook for the young women coming up in the field after me.

As a former high school teacher, what were some of the ways you encouraged students to develop an interest in STEAM?
I had the privilege of starting my teaching career with the JROTC program. Since the program had a broad curriculum, I had the flexibility to expose the students to other studies like meteorology, and stress to them that they would really use the math they were always complaining about. I achieved this by having them apply some of their education to everyday life. Whether they were in the kitchen cooking or trying to figure out the interest on their accounts, I tried in my simplest way to explain that our world works in binary code in one form or another through mathematical problems, everyday technology, and language. I encouraged them to always think about ‘why’ and ‘how’ things work, because sometimes it is as simple as the equation on the board, or the science question on the test.

Currently, you serve as the Director for Student Veterans Support Services at National Louis University. Does your STEAM background inform how you approach your work?
Two skills that were enhanced through my STEAM background and experiences, were my analytical and critical thinking skills. As a Meteorologist, we didn’t only have to forecast the weather and tides, we also had to determine how it would impact operations and the mission for both ground and air operations. We did it with little technology at the time.

We mostly used real-time satellite photos, radiosondes, and terminal arial forecast to graph charts by hand. We also had to facilitate support for multiple departments simultaneously, and would frequently bear the burden and stress of determining if a mission was ‘a go’ or ‘no go’.

Likewise, as a Director, I have to partner with several internal and external partners in order to achieve the goals we want to use for developing the program. My analytical skills have played a significant role so far in my short success as a Director in determining what will work and may not work for the students I serve. I have to ensure my decisions for the program can and will support assisting each student individually to achieve their academic goals in their transition from the military to the civilian community.

Why are STEAM skills important even for people who don’t intend to become scientists?
All areas of STEAM provide analytical and critical thinking skills, two skills that are necessary to become successful in whatever industry one aspires to pursue. Despite our world of technology, the ability to ‘think out of the box’ is more important than ever. The expected is no longer good enough, we are forever looking for that new life-changing discovery. The next great invention, new technologies, advances in engineering, creativity in art, and revolutionary mathematics. All of which can or will impact what we do everyday and everywhere across spectrum. So, the more you know…

In the United States (and beyond) few women are earning degrees in STEM, and the percentage is even smaller for women of color. How have you made sense of this inequality? How have you overcome it?
I don’t know many people who would endure ten years of rejection in order to achieve a small but important goal. I was brought into the field because of the scores I achieved on their tests. But for ten years, I was told that I was not good enough to be an officer in that same field. Not because I couldn’t, but because I was a female and of color. Similarly, science and math were not stressed upon us as girls and especially not girls of color. So when we struggled, we were often reassured that it was okay because girls just aren’t good at math and science. Sadly, that message continues to circulate. I’ve made sense of the fact that I was a victim of that pedagogy from decades ago. I was a product of that mentality. Even though I crossed some of the hurdles of inequality, I didn’t celebrate them. I was promoted to Warrant Officer, on 2 February 2000, in Black History month. There was no story told across the Base or the Marine Corps that acknowledged that moment in Black History. To me, and for many young girls and women of color, it was as it has always been, “not for girls.” 

Though I continue to struggle with being a woman of color in fields dominated by men, I have learned that we are our best advocates. Every chance I get to tell the story of my journey, I tell it. I tell it for women who have been through much of the same, and for those who need to hear it, so that they can have the courage to push through, despite the stereotypes and the inequality.

What advice would you give to young girls of color who are interested in pursuing careers in STEAM?
My advice is simple and somewhat of a cliche… just do it! If it is the stars, the sky, the numbers, the art that excites and ignites your passion, do not let anyone or anything deter you from it. Then, after you are successful in your area of STEAM, let the world know about it. This is how we can combat the stereotype and motivate future generations of women of color to pursue and excel in these areas. Women of color are NOT newcomers to the world of STEM or STEAM. They have contributed significantly to these career fields for decades. It has only just been brought to the forefront recently with movies and documentaries that are finally giving recognition to these groundbreakers. I would advise young girls of color to look back at our history, and witness all of the great achievements from women who were young girls of color, just like you… with a passion in an area of STEAM. They broke the glass ceiling long ago… think about what you can do with those pieces of glass today.

A Cross-Country Road Trip With Two Astrolabes

Hi, I’m Chris, Collections Manager at the Adler Planetarium. My job is to ensure the care of objects in the institutions’ collections, which includes ensuring the security of the objects, making sure they are stored properly, and ensuring they are used appropriately in exhibitions. Sometimes my role even extends outside the planetarium walls. The Adler occasionally loans out some of its artifacts to other institutions and that’s when my job gets extra exciting. Due to the valuable and historically significant nature of the Adler’s collection, all artifacts lent out by the Adler must be escorted to their final destination by a courier.

Yep, you read that right. Every single artifact—whether a massive telescope or an itty-bitty sundial—must be personally accompanied by myself, from the Adler’s collection vaults to their ultimate destinations.

How does this work? Well, let me tell you about a recent drop off I did for two astrolabes that went out on loan to Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art for inclusion in their incubator gallery In Transit: Arts & Migration Around Europe back in September 2018.

The first step in the process required me to ensure any objects requested for the loan could be covered by insurance during the transit to the destination and while on display at the destination. This process usually begins about six to eight months before an artifact can be cleared for transport. Check off this box for our two astrolabes.

Next, I was responsible for ensuring that any mounts and display cases the artifacts would sit in during their period on loan were up to conservational standard, meaning that they would be safe during display and secure from tampering among other factors. Next step was to bring in special conservators to ensure the artifacts were safe to travel. In the case that they are, I commission specially-constructed crates that are specced out and built specifically for the artifacts’ safe transport.

Astrolabe all packed up and ready for transit (1)
One the objects all packed up in the specially made crate before transport.

One of the objects that we prepared for Nasher—a paper astrolabe from the 16th century—was rather fragile. My team had concerns that it might not do so well in transit. To note, if on loan artifacts are traveling overseas extra special care has to be taken to ensure the materials contained within the artifacts don’t violate any international laws or treaties (particularly ivory). Luckily for our little paper astrolabe, it was only traveling about 800 miles across the continental United States to Durham, North Carolina.

Astrolabe, Western, wood, paper, brass - Adler Planetarium
Astrolabe: Eastern by Jehan Moreau and Philippe Danfrie circa 1584-1622, Paris, France. Learn more about this object in the Adler’s Collection Catalog.

Thankfully, both objects inspected by the special conservators were cleared for transport—our paper astrolabe was in the clear! We then readied them for shipment in their special crates, jumped in the transport van on shipment day, and headed out on the open road.

Packing up the van to head out to the Nasher Museum of Art (1)
Off we go!

My courier team and I left Chicago at 5:00 pm CT on a Tuesday, slated to arrive in Durham at 8:00 am local time the next day. For me, that meant roughly fourteen hours of sitting in the “jump seat” of a nondescript white Ford sprinter van with my “escorts” taking turns driving—four hours on, four hours off. (At least this time I didn’t have to be HANDCUFFED to the objects like previous international courier trips I’ve been on! Admittedly, this is very rare. But it does occasionally happen.)

Chris Helms Escorting Adler Collections Objects to Nasher Museum of Art
Me hanging out in the transport van keeping watch over the packaged astrolabes. It’s not as cozy as it looks.

As glamorous as that sounds, my “escorts” were really just drivers who work for a company that specializes in the crating, packing, and shipping of precious art and artifacts. All together, our job was to ensure the safe transport of the astrolabes, which meant that someone had to stay with the van and the artifacts at all times. No exceptions. Partially, this is for practical reasons, but also for insurance reasons so we don’t run the risk of something happening to the objects necessitating an insurance claim. So, we took turns making quick stops and going into gas stations for snacks or bathroom breaks.

For this job, my drivers weren’t armed, but I have been escorted by armed guards on previous courier trips. The security measures really depend on the object being transported and where or not the insurance companies feels an object is valuable enough to require armed escort. Occasionally, the shipping company might require this as well.

But I digress. When we finally arrived at the Nasher Museum of Art in the early morning, we were met by bleary-eyed members of their collections and exhibitions teams. Working together, we carefully moved the crated astrolabes from the van to a secured, climate-controlled storage space where they needed to rest and acclimate to the local climate for 24 hours before opening.

After this acclimation period, it was time for the artifact installation in the new gallery. The astrolabes were unpacked one by one, then studied briefly for a conditions report and to check for any damage. Thanks to our careful planning, both objects arrived in great condition—even our delicate paper astrolabe! I then helped members of the Nasher team install the objects into their new temporary home where they lived until January of this year when they made their return trip home.

Inspecting the astrolabe
Our brass astrolabe being inspected and checked for any damage post transport. Learn more about this item in our collections catalog!

And there you have it! That’s how collections objects at the Adler are transported for display at other institutions. The process may sound a bit over the top, but it’s all for the protection and preservation of important historical objects. I really enjoy being the person who gets to see this process out. It helps me get to appreciate parts of the world that I may not have otherwise had the chance to experience. And it’s mind-blowing to know that the Adler’s collections objects are helping people in little pockets all over the globe learn a little something new about our understanding of history. For me, that’s pretty cool.

Until next time!

Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM Series: Meet Rayne

“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.


Rayne Bozeman, PhD
Doctor of Philosophy, Applied Social Psychology

Rayne Bozeman, PhD | Chicago's Black Women in STEAM Series
Rayne Bozeman, PhD

What first sparked your interest in social psychology?
I was a sophomore or junior in college when I took an introductory course in social psychology. One of the class projects involved conducting a quasi-experiment in which I had a chance to observe social behavior. The hands-on nature of the assignment really sparked my initial interest. I think I also really liked the professor—as superficial as that sounds. She seemed cool and she seemed to like her job. Later, I took a capstone course on the social psychology of stereotyping and prejudice. I was hooked after that. The professor in that class, Dr. Marty Gooden, was the only faculty person of color in my department. He became my mentor and advised me on my senior honor’s project, which I had a chance to present at the Midwestern Psychological Association conference. Getting to do my own research really gave me the confidence that I could stick with this as a long-term career prospect.

During your time at Loyola University, you taught an undergraduate course called Understanding Prejudice. What inspired you to create this course and what learning objectives did you have for students?
My advisor, Robyn Mallett actually created the course, but I helped develop the activities and resources that were used in the first iteration of the course. The inspiration for the course came in part from the fact that no such course existed at the undergraduate level. It seemed appropriate that an institution like Loyola University Chicago—that prides itself on advancing social justice—would equip students with an understanding of the research and theories behind stereotypes, prejudice, and intergroup relations. There were three broad learning objectives. The first involved getting students to understand the basic research methods of psychology in order to describe how researchers have studied the topic of prejudice. The second was identifying the cognitive (i.e., stereotyping), affective (i.e., prejudice) and behavioral (i.e., discrimination) components of intergroup relations. The third objective was to actively engage students by having them complete a social action project aimed at prejudice-reduction. The latter was the most exciting part of the course because students could see the real-world, practical application of social psychological theories.

You also work as a Diversity Consultant. Can you tell us more about this role and why these types of services are important?
I was trained as an applied social psychologist, which means that I’ve been conditioned to think about how the theories I’ve learned can be used to address societal problems. Organizational diversity is one such problem. As a diversity consultant, I engage with organizations that seek to improve their diversity. In most cases, this entails conducting an initial needs assessment and providing diversity awareness and sensitivity training around issues of social identity (like race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc.). This form of service is important because organizations are becoming increasingly diverse in their numeric representation. Despite this increase in structural diversity, many organizations lack awareness of the importance of having a social climate that signals that all individuals will be valued and accepted for the diversity they bring.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your current role as a professor of psychology at Chicago State University?
It is most rewarding to see students conceive of themselves as scientists. Although most of the students in my classes have declared their major to be psychology, they are susceptible to the faulty notion that psychology is not a science. I love it when students begin to envision a career as a researcher or an applied social scientist. This is in part because most students think of psychology as being limited to clinical work or mental health counseling.

In the United States (and beyond) few women are earning degrees in STEM, and the percentage is even smaller for women of color. How have you made sense of this inequality? In what ways do you think that intergroup prejudice can be reduced in the STEM community?
Interestingly, this exact topic is one of the ways I try to grab students’ attention during the first day in my social psychology course at Chicago State University. I remind them of the abysmal statistics related to the leaky STEM pipeline (i.e., women and racial minorities drop out of STEM beginning in high school and the trend worsens by the time folks reach graduate school). I believe that some part of the problem is students’ own efficacy. They may not think they are capable of persisting in STEM partly because they don’t feel like they belong. When few people in a given environment look like you, you start to question whether you’re a good fit. Then I show my students research by Gregory Walton and colleagues (2015) which suggests that relatively simple interventions can make a huge difference. In particular, when women and minorities are made aware of the fact that it is pretty typical for college to feel stressful—regardless of your race or gender—then these individuals tend to show a dramatic improvement in their GPA. The take-home message is that reducing people’s uncertainty about belonging in an environment can reduce the type of underperformance that leads to dropout. However, focusing solely on the individuals who do not persist in STEM creates the faulty impression that the locus of control lies solely in the individual. For the STEM community to reduce intergroup prejudice, we will also have to direct efforts at systemic change. For example, some research suggests that teachers’ expectations matter. When instructors expect students to do well, they typically do, regardless of the students’ baseline performance. Institutions can begin by engaging in self-reflection. Individuals can spend time assessing the stereotypes that color our beliefs about what a typical scientist, mathematician or engineer looks like. We could invest resources into recruiting women and minorities as early as middle-school. If you believe that your field is exciting and that there’s a space for more women of color, then sell that message. Make it sound appealing.

What advice would you give to young girls of color who are interested in pursuing careers in STEAM?
Start talking yourself into it. Look yourself in the mirror and affirm the belief that you have what it takes to be good at STEAM and that you can persist in the face of challenges. Then find a topic that sparks your interest and engage that topic. Watch videos about it, find out about museum exhibits or podcasts on the topic. Finally, seek advice from someone in the field. Maybe you know an engineer or a mathematician. Ask that person tons of questions about what got them interested in their field.