College of Science, Technology, and Health

Southworth Planetarium Launches New Public Science Lecture Series

Southworth Planetarium, located on USM’s Portland campus, has launched a new monthly series of science lectures. The lectures will cover topics in all areas of science, engineering, and mathematics at a popular level and are free and open to the public. No scientific background is required to attend – just an interest in the topic.

Dr. Jerry LaSala, Professor of Physics, was inspired to begin the lecture series after taking part in a similar series at the INTECH Planetarium in Winchester, England, while on leave during the Fall 2011 semester. “It’s something I had thought about doing for some time, but after seeing how successful the program in Winchester is, I was motivated to get the series started as soon as I returned to the U.S.”

The series will kick off on Thursday, March 15 at 7:30 p.m. with a lecture titled ‘Are We Alone?: Earths, Super-Earths, and Hot-Jupiters,’ presented by Dr. Julie Ziffer, Assistant Professor of Physics. The lecture discussed the planetary conditions necessary to support life, the latest techniques used for planet detection, and the current state of knowledge of Earths, Super-Earths, and Hot-Jupiters.  Dr. Ziffer’s research interests focus on the surface composition of asteroids and comets. Utilizing national and space telescopes, Dr. Ziffer’s research furthers our understanding of the nature and extent of water in our Solar System.

Future topics include presentations in topics covering toxicology, psychology, mathematics, biology, and geosciences. Dr. Jerry LaSala, Professor of Physics, will end 2012 with a presentation titled ‘An Astronomer Looks at the Christmas Star.’

The Planetarium plans to continue the series past 2012 and will be recruiting lecturers to cover topics that are of interest to the public. “It is my hope that this will become a permanent fixture in the Planetarium’s offerings – one more way for USM to be active in our community,” says Dr. LaSala.

The science lectures will be held the third Thursday of each month at the Southworth Planetarium. Lectures will last approximately one hour, followed by a brief Planetarium show highlighting the seasonal sky.

For more information about the Southworth Planetarium, please visit