Joe Eakin in the Visualization Lab

Joe Eakin

Senior designer and technician, Ho Tung Visualization Lab.

Discovered stars in the Lone Star State. When I was a freshman [at the University of North Texas], I took an astronomy course and all of our labs were in the planetarium. I loved it. I went to them and said, ‘Hey, do you guys need any help?’ They offered me a job. I started programming Digistar II [dome digital theater system], producing shows, presenting to school groups and the public, teaching astronomy labs — both in the planetarium and at the observatory — and I knew I wanted to get into the business.

From the earth to the sky, and in between. My degree is in geography, with a specialty in earth science. For this job, I have to know a little bit of everything. We’re producing content for biology, chemistry, geology, geography, physics and astronomy, the classics, history, and even theater.

Athens wasn’t built in a day. For this big project that we’ll be working on this summer about the death of Socrates, Professor Robert Garland wrote the script and we’ll put the visuals to it. I’ve been researching what certain buildings looked like, so we can design it properly. We’re building 3D models of Athens, using the animation programs Maya and 3DS Max.

Outreach that counts. Since March 2008, we’ve had more than 250 school groups [who are shown science demos and tour spots like the dome, the greenhouse, and the Linsley Geology Museum]. For total attendance, we’ve had about 50,800.

Freezy freakie. With our outreach programs, we make ice cream using liquid nitrogen. We get a big bowl, add half-and-half, heavy cream, sugar, and flavoring. Liquid nitrogen freezes it, so you get instant ice cream. It’s fattening, but it’s great, and the kids love it.

I know they can, I know they can. My favorite [Vis Lab] show is “The Little Star that Could,” for kindergartners to second graders. It talks about our sun, who meets other stars as he travels around the Milky Way. You can hear the kids laughing throughout the show. Anytime that I can see a kid’s happiness from watching a show, it’s great. Also, for them to be able to remember facts afterward, especially that young, it’s a good show — and that happens a lot.

Student life — cubed. I’ve been filming 360-degree video with this little camera, which is six GoPros in a cube. I filmed some Colgate hockey games, so the team came to the dome and saw some of the content. I’m also putting together a show called “Life on the Hill,” through the eyes of the students. And I’m working on a promo for athletics — one for hockey, one for football. We had a camera hooked up to a quarterback during practice.

Office space. I’m a big Star Wars geek, as you can see from all of my ships [hanging from the ceiling]. The Lego Death Star was a gift from my students a couple of years ago. They all pitched in and came in to build it during their breaks over the summer.

I got that chessboard in Teotihuacán when I went with Professor Tony Aveni to Mexico. We were working on a documentary about churches that were built on top of Aztec temples. I love chess. [He has seven chessboards at home.]

— Interview by Aleta Mayne; Photo by Andrew Daddio