Jim Gee Director UCEC, Manager Yerkes Observatory at a reception on 9.22.2012 announced that the University of Chicago will continue to fund and expand the Observatory in Williams Bay Wisconsin. Extensive maintenance is taking place along with expanding the teaching mission of Yerkes.

A Fab Lab is just beginning to be created in the basement engineering lab at Yerkes. Fab Lab was developed by the Center of Bits and Atoms at MIT as a (build anything) teaching tool for students and adults. Local high school students begin by learning simple computer aided design programs, and then build their design using 3D printers.

3D printing is the beginning of a major digital disruption in the way manufacturing will take place. The Economist reports that it “could well be the next great technological disruption is fermenting away, out of sight, in small workshops, college labs, garages and basements. Tinkerers with machines that turn binary digits into molecules are pioneering a whole new way of making things—one that could well rewrite the rules of manufacturing in much the same way as the PC trashed the traditional world of computing.”   Making things with 3D printing will change the rules of manufacturing. It is known as “additive” manufacturing , as the technology is getting better more things are being printed as finished goods, and not just one of prototypes.

Fab Labs and 3D printing complements the “Maker subculture”  representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture with the “Maker Movement” taking place throughout the world and Maker Faires on both coasts of the United States. At Yerkes they had just installed a new $4K 3D printer for use in the new Lab. The cost of 3D printers is plummeting with a new MakerBot Replicator 2X which can make objects up to 9 x 6 for $2800.  Which will launch a new ear of desktop manufacturing.

Yerkes showed off the new telescope for  Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA,  which was built at Yerkes. The telescope will be mounted in a Boeing 747 and make observations in the infrared spectrum.

Two very bright home schooled high school students demoed Skynet at Yekes.  SKYNET is a distributed network of robotic telescopes operated by students, faculty, and staff at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The students showed how to prompt telescopes in Chile to take pictures of the universe and web pan the 9 telescopes – very cool.

The highlight of the evening was a chance to stargaze through the original 40″ Great Refractor telescope. This is the largest refracting telescope used for scientific research and was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago before being installed in the observatory.

In addition to the Yerkes refractor, the observatory also houses 102 cm (40 inch, referred to as the “41 inch” to prevent confusion) and 61 cm (24 inch) reflecting telescopes. Several smaller telescopes are used for educational outreach purposes.

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