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Joanne Foo

From howl nights to the planetarium in Glasgow

19 May 2009

I did biology and chemistry at school – no physics – and I studied zoology at the University of Aberdeen where, in addition to animal behaviour, I got interested in human interaction. On graduating I travelled and I worked with wolves in America.

I was at Wolf Park in Indiana, where they have socialised wolves that the public can interact with. Ambassador wolves: they are amazing! Misconceptions about wolves are widespread and this really cemented my desire to work in science communication. It’s also where I had my first chance to look through a telescope: they had Howl Nights where visitors could come to look at the stars. Wolves howl all the time, by the way, not specifically at the moon. In history, humans would go outside more at full moon and hear the wolves howl, hence the mistaken link!

I came back and got a job at Glasgow Science Centre, in the Planetarium . We have a Carl Zeiss Projector worth nearly a million pounds, and the whole planetarium cost £3 million. We always have shows with a live presenter. We can move forward and back in time and show you the stars from any place on earth. It’s a beautiful curved dome, with stars breathtakingly bright and crisp.

We have lots of families and the general public visiting and we run shows for schools and universities. We even run a show for children under five. Our summer show this year may have a mystical theme to tie in with Harry Potter. He studies lots of astronomy but gets some of it muddled up. We link up with the Royal Observatory Edinburgh on their Dark Skies Project, which tackles the issue of light pollution and we also work with the Astronomical Society of Glasgow.

My job has evolved. Now I do a few shows a week , and spend time training staff. I develop shows in the Science Show Centre Theatre as well. No day is the same, and there’s always an opportunity to learn more. I work in one of the finest planetariums in Europe. I love spending time under the stars in there. It’s mesmerising. I hope readers will come and visit.

Joanne Foo is a Science Education Coordinator at Glasgow Science Centre. She is a member of the British Interactive Group. See and hear wolf howls on YouTube.

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