Keck Foundation Proposal

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September 21, 2005

This document is a set of ideas and talking points, one developed by Science Division/Science Friday group and one developed by Ray Hively, concerning what types of support Earlham might approach the W.M. Keck Foundation for.

Broadly speaking there are two areas of approach, which may or may not be mutually exclusive:

  • Interdisciplinary science curriculum modules tied to on-going student-faculty research projects across the natural sciences. These interdisciplinary research projects would build on the foundation provided for by our recent HHMI grant. More about this idea can be found below.
  • Planetarium. Astronomy and outreach are two recurring themes in Keck's history. Given the museum's track-record, and the outreach potential for a planitarium, it seems logical that we should explore how they might help with our upcoming facilities project. Ray's plan for the planetarium is to use digital technology which would allow it to be used for a variety of science and non-science displays.

Background material related to Keck and these proposals:

Interdisciplinary Science Curriculum Modules

This project will focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and curriculum development among the natural and physical sciences departments at Earlham College, including biology, chemistry, computer science, geosciences, mathematics, and physics. It is clear that cutting-edge scientific research is becoming more interdisciplinary and collaborative at all levels; therefore, it is essential to train our students to develop multi-faceted approaches to problem solving. This project will introduce an important scientific problem and ask students to collect and analyze data, as well as make interpretations, using different disciplinary perspectives in both coursework and independent research projects with faculty. We believe this idea of collaborative learning will transform our undergraduate curriculum in the sciences and provide a model for interdisciplinary curricula for other liberal arts colleges.

In choosing the scientific problem around which to construct this project, we have tried to generate topics centered around faculty expertise, student interest, and local impact. We anticipate that if this approach is successful, both scientifically and educationally, we would be able to expand topics to reflect the changing interests of students, faculty, and the community. Therefore, our selection of the research problem is purposefully flexible, although any topic must meet the following explicit criteria:

  • It must be broadly relevant to the scientific community (research results should be publishable in more than one venue).
  • It must be easily adapted to both student/faculty research and the undergraduate science curriculum.
  • It must involve field work, laboratory work, and computational analysis.
  • It must be interdisciplinary in nature.
  • It must have local impact or be important to the local community.

We have considered two topics that meet the above criteria as themes with which to begin the development of this project:

  • Pesticides and Herbicides: Building on local expertise developed in studying the concentration and effects of atrazine in groundwater, we would propose studying pesticides in the Richmond area. Possible areas of investigation might include determination of concentrations, computational modeling of distribution, effects on area plant and animal life, and evaluation of pesticide degradation products. We propose to do our studies in Clear Creek, adjacent to and running through Earlham's campus. Among other things this local connection will enable us to easily integrate the field work into lab classes.
  • Metals: The environmental impact of local industry and geology on ground water sources would be studied using such methods computational modeling, analytical techniques, and effects/evidence of metal uptake by plants or aquatic life. Again we could employ Clear Creek as our study site. Snapping turtles are potential heavy metal reservoirs, as such they would provide us with one particularly good angle with which to approach this which builds on significant faculty expertise.


  • Research projects and curriculum modules for a variety of introductory and upper-level classes.
  • For science and non-science majors, a better understanding of both computational and experimental research methods, model development and verification, and interdisciplinary science research. For example, students in both majors and non-majors versions of general chemistry should come away with some understanding of how computational methods, chemistry, biology, and geology, work together to deepen our understanding of the problem.
  • Science outreach activities for local K-12 students and teachers. Earlham's Joseph Moore Museum has developed a significant outreach program for local school districts in the natural sciences. We propose to develop new programs, based on the project theme, to be delivered by the Museum.
  • Introduce students to scientific problems which incorporate local and regional issues and resources.

Selling points:

  • Computational methods are now an important part of basic research in all of the natural sciences, yet few undergraduate programs have such components. Earlham is very well positioned to develop a template for incorporating computational methods into science curricula, e.g. our interdisciplinary approach and the high percentage of our graduates that go on to earn Ph.D.s in a science.
  • It is difficult to obtain funding from government agencies, e.g. the NSF, for cross disciplinary work such as we describe here. This puts Keck in a somewhat unique position as a sponsor for this project.


The Keck Foundation has traditionally supported astronomy research, education, and outreach as demonstrated by their funding of the Keck Observatory in Hawaii and their recent funding of a planetarium. Earlham also has a strong record of interest and accomplishment in astronomy research, education, and outreach. Our Descriptive Astronomy course is taken by almost one-half of the students at the College and many of our physics majors go on to do research in astronomy in graduate school.

The goals of the Keck Foundation and the needs of Earlham College would appear to find a perfect match in the funding of a new state-of-the-art planetarium for Earlham College. The proposed planetarium would actually be a multipurpose digital theatre with some 60-80 theatre type seats and would make use of the latest technology in digital planetarium projectors which have now revolutionized the art of planetarium projection. The planetarium-theatre would be part of a renovated or new Joseph Moore Museum. In addition to giving planetarium shows with the latest technology in animated digital graphics, the theatre could also be used for lectures and for digital projection or conventional film showing involving any topic.

The planetarium would contribute to the science education mission of Earlham in the following respects

  • (1) It would vastly improve astronomy education (roughly 150 students per year take astronomy) in an environment where a clear sky is seldom available for study. This would make a very major impact on our general science education program since astronomy is taken by almost half of our non-science majors. The generally hazy skies at Earlham make research-grade observation and first-hand observation of the sky very difficult. Consequently a planetarium represents a more useful and practical investment for astronomy education than new observatory facilities. Such a facility is rare among liberal arts colleges and would enable Earlham to become a leader in developing this kind of science education.
  • (2) A planetarium facility generally becomes one of the most popular of museum programs and so would greatly enhance the impact and outreach capability of our already well-developed Joseph Moore Science Museum.
  • (3) A planetarium facility would have a very large value for educational outreach both to area students of all ages and prospective students. Currently the local school system rents a small, inflatable planetarium to teach local school children. The proposed Earlham planetarium would represent a dramatic step forward beyond that and presumably increase the quality of science education for all students in our area.
  • (4) A planetarium facility could be used as a multi-media auditorium for the museum and the college at large when not being used for planetarium shows. It would provide 360 degree projection capability for shows in say geology, biology, or for the arts.
  • (5) The computer control and the small upkeep required for such a facility means that the expense of operation is small and no additional technical staff is required since students could be trained as planetarium operators. This means that our MAT teaching program would have a first-rate facility for training future teachers and local outreach projects.

I believe that a quality planetarium would be in such demand that it would be in use virtually all the time either for astronomy courses at the College or local educational outreach. I would estimate its cost as being on the order of $1-2 million but with little expense after that. I think its educational benefit would make it very cost effective over time in spite of the large initial cost.