Every day when Keith Turner, ’95 MS ’03, walks into Carmel (Indiana) High School and turns on the projector in the planetarium, he recalls the first time he caught what he calls “planetarium fever.”
“One day at Ball State, my astronomy professor took us to the planetarium for a demonstration of planetary motion and a look at the night sky. Suddenly I had a flashback to a visit to the same planetarium in my sixth-grade year, and I remembered how much I had loved it as a child. It was at that point I decided to make a career out of being a planetarium director.”
Turner explains that planetarium fever occurs when someone attends a well done presentation, containing science, special effects, and a little fun. Now, about two decades later, that fever rages inside him nearly every day as he takes his students to the stars.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Turner started his career running a planetarium at a high school in Marion, Indiana, before moving on to Carmel High School to do the same. At both institutions, he has been given the opportunity to renovate the planetariums and bring them up to more modern utility.
“At my current job as director of the Carmel Clay Schools planetarium, I teach two astronomy courses every day and then run elementary planetarium shows and high school planetarium shows during the day, in-between classes,” Turner says.
Turner remembers how Ball State and Ronald Kaitchuck, his astronomy professor and the university’s longtime planetarium director, helped guide his interest and steer him onto his current career path.
“My experience as an undergraduate at Ball State and working with Prof. Ronald Kaitchuck prepared me well. I started working with Prof. Kaitchuck during a renovation of the Ball State planetarium back in 1994. I helped put the planetarium back together and update some of the automation equipment. The professor and I also worked together during an independent study class where I learned how to operate, produce, program, and evaluate everything related to the planetarium and astronomy.”
Kaitchuck says Turner is the shining example of students who meld a passion for astronomy with a career.
“Over the years, many students worked for me in the Ball State planetarium,” Kaitchuck says. “A few have gone on to be planetarium directors. Keith is the only one to have renovated three planetariums! I have never seen a person with Keith’s passion for the role of planetariums play in education, and it’s contagious.”
With Ball State opening its Charles W. Brown Planetarium in 2014, there are plans to more than double its seating capacity.
With the guidance of Kaitchuck, his close friend and mentor, Turner is furthering his educational background in astronomy in the doctoral program offered by the University of Wyoming—which should help him in passing along planetarium fever to the next generation of stargazers.