What Happened to the “Ant”? Planetariums in the Digital Age: Do They Still Work?

Derrick Pitts, Planetarium Director and Exhibit Developer, Franklin Institute Science Museum, delivers the 2012 Whitesell Lecture that considers the past, present and future of planetariums as theaters of space and time. Winter 2012.
Just 25 years ago, planetariums were the theaters of time and space. Forward into the future or backward into the past, their presentations shone a light into the dark of space and illuminated the depths of the universe using astronomical images, special effects, and that oh-so-incredible “voice from beyond.” Many of us had our first mediated astronomical learning experience in the planetarium, but by the turn of the century the video and digital revolutions made them nearly obsolete and “the ant” has all but disappeared. Would you believe they are again the most advanced of the visual theaters? They are, but we’ve not yet learned how to wield their fantastic power to show.

The 2012 Whitesell Lecture is organized by the Museum Studies Program and co-sponsored by the Bentley Historical Library.

Derrick Pitts is the Planetarium Director and Exhibit Developer at the Franklin Institute Science Museum. He has been associated with the museum since 1978, designing and presenting many public programs and exhibits. Pitts was the original director of the Tuttleman OMNIMAX Theater, museum vice-president and many other valued positions. He has been Chief Astronomer and Director of the Fels Planetarium since 1990, having written and produced more than two-dozen planetarium programs. He served as the US National Spokesperson for the IAU ‘International Year of Astronomy 2009’ and currently is a NASA Solar System Ambassador. Among his many awards are the Mayor’s Liberty Bell, the St. Lawrence University Distinguished Alumni Award, the G. W. Carver Medal, Please Touch Museum’s “Great Friend To Kids” Award, induction into the Germantown Historical Society Hall of Fame, selection as one of the “50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science” by Science Spectrum Magazine in 2004, the 2010 inaugural recipient of the David Rittenhouse Award, and in 2011, an honorary Doctor of Science degree from LaSalle University.  Pitts currently serves as the Academic Affairs committee chair on the Board of Trustees for his alma mater St. Lawrence University, is a member of the Board of Trustees at Widener University and is currently president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.