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The Portable Planetarium

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The Portable Planetarium
Aram Friedman at the National Space Symposium

For those who would rather have the planetarium come to them, there is Aram Friedman. The West Windsor resident is the president of Ansible Technologies, which developed the Micro Dome, a portable planetarium that can be used in classrooms or museums. The company also gives presentations about basic astronomy using the Micro Dome.

Friedman will be a featured speaker at the 2012 Trenton Computer Festival on Saturday, March 10, at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. Attendees can see his planetarium in action and witness a recreation of the birth of the universe.

In a 2004 interview (“The Universe to Go,” March 31, 2004), Friedman told U.S. 1, “We have in our grasp, with the digital systems, the ability to leave earth and view a universe that is as scientifically accurate as we know today. We need to push ourselves and our viewers to higher expectations. And people are smart. If you show it to them, they will get it.”

A computer engineer by training, Friedman fell into astronomy when he was named engineering director for the 1998 redesign of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. When that highly successful project was completed, Friedman dreamed of a planetarium on a smaller scale that could be easily transported, and Ansible Technologies and the Micro Dome were born.

The company’s name has its roots in science fiction: the term ansible was first coined by author Ursula K. Le Guin to refer to a device that would allow communications to travel faster than the speed of light. But while “ansible” may be fiction, Friedman’s Micro Dome is definitely real.

Initially intended for universities and the like, the Micro Dome was installed at schools such as Williams College and Widener University before happenstance took Friedman in a different direction.

“While exhibiting at the American Astronomical Society meeting in San Diego I met the head of marketing for Northrop Grumman,” Friedman explained recently. “NGC is the prime contractor for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. He asked if I would use my Micro Dome to teach about the JWST and general astronomy to their aerospace clients and at public events.”

He now presents an annual astronomy program using his system at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and represents the Thirty Meter Telescope project at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.

Most important to Friedman, however, is the roughly 35 days he spends in classrooms each year, teaching students from third grade through college-level using his portable system. “I make a modest profit from this work,” Friedman says, “but the rewards and enjoyment from being in the classroom and having such a direct impact on the students is well worth it.”

Meanwhile, Friedman does freelance design for WABC-TV in New York to make ends meet, which opens further opportunities. “Working freelance allows me the freedom to pursue the astronomy education. I am also free to take some amazing astronomy adventures as well,” he says. One example: he traveled to China in 2009 to record a total eclipse of the sun.

On June 5 he will be among the many astronomy enthusiasts observing the transit of Venus. He will be working with Professor Jay Pasachoff of Williams to create a time lapse of the event.

“In retrospect what I set out to do was very different from what I do now, but I have no regrets at all,” Friedman says. “I have more fun than most and am very grateful.”

Ansible Technologies Ltd., 27 Scott Avenue, Princeton Junction 08550. 609-715-8254. www.ansibletech.com.

Trenton Computer Festival, Sunday, March 10, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the College of New Jersey, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing 08628. Featured speakers are Aram Friedman of Ansible Technologies and Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment. Professional seminars on Friday, March 9, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. $10. www.tcf-nj.org.

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