Mid-America Science Museum will be debuting its new and improved digital dome to the public on Sept. 11, after having had it closed since mid-2019. This state-of-the-art Digistar 7 computer system was installed after a $389,496 grant from the Oaklawn Foundation.
“The Oaklawn Foundation Digital Dome Theater is one of our most popular attractions and now we’ll have the very latest technology and a new, exciting presentation,” Diane LaFollette, Executive Director of MASM, said in a news release. “We are grateful for this generous grant by the Oaklawn Foundation and what it will mean to the museum and our visitors.”
Scott Dews, Chair of the Oaklawn Foundation, said in the release, “The mission of the Oaklawn Foundation is to improve the quality of life for the people of Hot Springs and Garland County through the funding of programs in support of education and its senior citizens, and few organizations align with our mission as well as the Mid-America Science Museum.
“The Museum is truly a treasure, not just for Hot Springs but for the entire state of Arkansas.
“We are thrilled to be able to award the Museum a grant to fund the new Digital Dome Theater, and we are excited to see how it enhances their already impressive offering of exhibits and educational opportunities.”
MASM Director of Education Casey Wylie described the new dome to The Post as “an iMax that goes around your entire head.”
“It’s a 360 degree curved dome theatre, so all the images are projected above you,” Wylie said. “The best way to imagine it is to imagine going to a planetarium, and it’s that same sort of feel. And it is a planetarium, but since it’s digital it can do so much more.”
From exploring the human body to under the sea, she said this new program gives the museum access to hundreds of titles in the digital library. They also have the ability to create their own, personalized show experience using satellites like Google Earth images.
"I can even project up on the screen exactly what the sky looks like outside with the clouds and the temperature and where the stars are spaced," Wylie said. "It’s really phenomenal technology."
Installing the Digistar 7, which is the latest technology from its makers Evans & Sutherland of Salt Lake City, Utah, would not have been possible without the grant from the Oaklawn Foundation, Wylie said.
"That is obviously something the museum would not be able to do on our own, and the fact that we can offer this to an area the size of Hot Springs, is phenomenal," she said.
"We now have access to not only that library, but we also have access to hundreds of other dome users in the country and around the world," Wylie continued. "And Evans & Sutherland’s philosophy is all about community partnerships and cooperation, so there are … all kinds of different ways to connect with other Evans & Sutherland users.
"So now, even though we have a small staff, we will have the ability to do the things that those places with massive teams can do."
Compared to the previous dome, which was installed in 2015, Wylie said the new one is larger, will be able to cast more programs and is digital rather than electric.
"Now we won’t have the upkeep costs that we had before, we have a wider variety of shows we can offer now. … It’s easier for us to maintain in the future, and easier for us to offer a bigger variety of options to schools," she said.
"So we’ll probably have, you know, one or two show titles on a weekend, and we’ll run the same show titles for a couple of months, give people a chance to see it, and then trade them out fairly frequently.
"But for schools, we’re going to have a menu of five or six shows that connect specifically to their NGSS, Next Generation Science Standards, for their grade levels. So if a field trip comes, they can book a specific dome that has to do with what they’re specifically learning in their classrooms."
Since the dome's closing in 2019, Wylie said there has been "a lot of call for it" from the community to bring it back.
"Visitors have really missed it; schools have really missed it," she said. "Hot Springs School District, especially, is pretty excited about it because they’re doing a partnership with us where … they pay for a membership. So basically they pay one flat rate for all of their students, kindergarten through 8th grade, and they get unlimited field trips and lots of other stuff included as well, so they’re really excited to make use of this."