Ken’s travels and teaching in Italy have been full of excitement and surprises for everyone (the weather seems to be pulling some particularly sly tricks!). Read on for this week’s installment of “Ken Goes to Italy!” to learn about what he’s teaching, what he’s seeing, and even the lessons he’s learning while overseas. As lovers of science, we know it’s truly a wonderful thing to be a lifetime student and know there are new things around every corner.

Snow In Padua…

As we continue to follow the saga of our intrepid adventurer, today finds me in Padua. The weather has the Italians talking, and they’re starting to believe me when I say I may have a weather curse about me.  Texas: cloudy, and I’m 0/4 on the planned observatory sessions-all rained-OR SNOWED! Out. *People you don’t want to invite to your outdoor event: Ken Brandt, apparently. 

The observatory event in Lumezzane was canceled due to SNOW? Just so you know, my hosts were more surprised than I was

Although the weather has been unsettled here, we’re still having a blast! My teaching responsibilities are impressive: rooms full of students eager to pick up what I’m laying down.

Students prepare for the evening lesson about Perseverance and Mars.

The activities I’ve been able to do with my students have been effective, I think, in making the complex simple.  Whether it’s Mars, Kinesthetic Astronomy, or Galileo; students seem to like my lessons. The language barrier is real-for most groups, I’ll speak about 1.5 sentences, and then have a teacher translate.  “Lessons will be given in the English language” does not equal “students completely grok everything you’re saying.”  I find myself using google translate a lot.

But what the students lack in English fluency, they more than make up for with enthusiasm, and a sincere desire to understand. I regret not spending more time on the native language. Lesson learned: I’m going to know a lot more German before I head off to Berlin in July for the IPS conference – much more than the Italian that I know right now. 

Next stop: A Day in Ravenna

The artwork adorning the roof of the Planetario Ravenna featured a certain Star Trek character, who wore a similar kit to mine.

The planetarium features an optomechanical projector and a full dome system running stellarium. Stellarium is used in several of the host planetariums here, and since I use stellarium with my college classes, I was able to help my hosts find cool plugins that would help them tell their story.

The control panel for the optomechanical projector.

The Zeiss ZPK3 star projector in the Ravenna Planetarium.

Ravenna, like every city I’ve been to in Italy so far, is a city full of history, and beautiful artwork. 

The ubiquitous St. Francis shows up in every cathedral or basilica we visit, here, in St. Francesco Basilica, in Ravenna. How do I know that this is Francis? Look carefully at the hand, with the stigmata.

Another cathedral in Ravenna.

But wait: there’s more! Another cathedral!

The tomb of Dante Aligheri.

Rovigo and Lendinara

Whereas Perugia, Assisi, Lumezzane, Brescia, and Florence were all very hilly, Ravenna, Rovigo, and Padua are relatively flat. For the past year I have been working on getting into better physical health, and it has paid off for me.

Walking 7 miles in a day? It’s happened three times thus far, and I am not done yet!

Monday: Padua, and coming full circle.


Ken Brandt directs the Robeson Planetarium and Science Center in Lumberton, NC.  He is a volunteer in NASA’s Solar System Ambassador Program. He is also a member of the 3rd cohort of NC Space Grant Ambassadors, and an Ambassador for the Mars Society.