/Life in the Universe
Scott Roby, an astronomy professor at SUNY Oswego since 1987 and director of SUNY Oswego’s planetarium.

Life in the Universe

Astronomy professor Scott Roby major force behind planetarium

By Alexander Plate

Scott Roby has been an astronomy professor at SUNY Oswego since 1987. As the director of the planetarium, he has been a part of some major changes to the campus and the science department.

At 65 years of age, Roby is one of the longest-serving professors in the Oswego physics department.

Since he started at Oswego, the astronomy program has tripled in size, moved departments, moved buildings, and seen one of its main scientific instruments, the planetarium, totally updated.

“The astronomy program has grown, and it’s grown a lot since Dr. Kanbur came in, because he has a big research program with a lot of students,” Roby said, referring to professor Shashi Kanbur, an internationally known expert in pulsating stars which have been used to determine the universe’s size and age. Kanbur teaches in the physics and earth sciences department.

In 2005, Roby instituted his first major change as the planetarium director, hosting weekly public shows at 7 p.m. every Sunday between September and June. That change nearly tripled the number of annual visitors from about 600 annually to about 1600.

The growth of the science department at SUNY Oswego has been dramatic, with the opening of the Shineman Science Center building in 2012 marking one of the largest investments the school has made into its science program since the 1960s. Originally, the planetarium was located in the now-demolished Snygg Hall, and was an analogue device, reliant on lightbulbs and domes with holes punched into them to project an image of the night sky.

Roby took the chance to advocate for a new, fully digital planetarium when the planning for Shineman began.

“When we were doing the planning for the science building, I worked hard to promote the idea that we needed a new, digital planetarium,” Roby said.

The idea was taken to heart by the Oswego administration, and the planetarium was worked into the architectural plans, being placed right in the atrium of the new building, on the second floor.

Since the opening of the digital planetarium, Roby said that the number of annual visitors has again grown, and they now see about 3500 annual visitors.

Roby is still working hard to keep the planetarium updated, fun and educational. He says that even though he has been working with the software used to create the planetarium shows, and present them for more than five years, there is still about 20% left to discover.

“Every year, I challenge myself to do two new things in the planetarium that I haven’t done before,” Roby said.

He is also working with two staff members, training them on how to operate the planetarium and produce shows.

Roby said he is looking forward to developing the 10 shows he plans on presenting to visitors this year, and he is looking forward to seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they leave the presentations.

“It’s fun to give a show and see all the smiles of people as they come out. That’s normal, that’s routine to see people leaving with a smile,” Roby said.

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