Garner Cleveland Record

Planetarium director’s love of science started in Garner

Students are regular visitors at Morehead Planetarium and the center’s educational productions are seen all over the state.
Students are regular visitors at Morehead Planetarium and the center’s educational productions are seen all over the state. 2013 File photo

Todd Boyette’s life changed in Phillip Dail’s chemistry class at Garner Senior High.

“I really don’t know how my life would have turned out if it hadn’t been for Mr. Dail,” Boyette said recently in his office in the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. “I just can’t imagine.”

Boyette is the director of the Planetarium and Science Center and his office is the former apartment of namesake John Motley Morehead. The heavily paneled walls hide concealed doorways and the room has a nostalgic feel.

But Boyette’s charge is to keep the center relevant in a changing information world.

Gone is the giant star projector known by thousands of aging former North Carolina school children. It was out-dated and limited. The projections that trained the astronauts in the 1960s have been replaced by projectors that turn the massive dome into a multi-dimensional theater.

The center produces programs that are shown around the world, still introducing the thousands of school children who visit a fun way to learn science.

That’s what Dail did for Boyette years ago. Dail taught him that science is fun.

“I signed up for Chemistry and happened to get Mr. Dail,” Boyette said. “He introduced me to a world I didn’t know existed.”

Boyette, whose mother still lives just down the street from the Aversboro Road Restaurant where her son is a part of mural that features community life, had planned to be a lawyer.

Dail casually mentioned to him one day that someone as talented in the sciences as Boyette should consider the sciences. Even with a degree in Chemistry, Dail said, Boyette could switch to law in graduate school.

That made sense to Boyette. He has been involved in science and science education ever since.

He is fascinated by science – telescopic and microscopic. Space is so vast that it is hard to imagine, but just as unimaginable as subatomic objects.

He quotes Victor Hugo, “Where the telescope ends the microscope begins, and who can say which has the wider view.”

“It is all fantastic,” he said.

The recent Pluto flyby has created more interest in Earth’s solar system. A recent program on Pluto at the science center sold out.

Scientists will continue to get data from Pluto, which is 9 billion miles from earth, for months and scientists will have to reevaluate their thinking about the far off land.

“That’s what science does,” Boyette said. “We observe, we study and we draw conclusions. We use what we observe, not what we expected to observe.”

The Pluto flight caught the imagination of the world, he said.

“I think it is the pioneer feeling in all of us,” Boyette said. “Discovering new things.”

Boyette, 49, graduated before Garner’s 1987 run to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A football championship, but he and his friends attended every playoff game. They traveled to Durham, Rockingham, and Charlotte, never imagining that one day he would oversee a science center that carries programs to all 100 counties.

Or that the programs developed under his oversight in Chapel Hill would be seen all over the world.

A small staff of three works over a nearby bakery to turn out the programs on the sun, moon and earth, the solar system and even the internal workings of the body.

“We’re just like Pixar and Disney,” said project manager Jay Heinz. “Except we’re three instead of 3,000.”

Animating is a way to communicate with youngsters today. That is something that Boyette has wanted to do since Mr. Dail opened his eyes.

Tim Stevens: timstevens710@gmail.com, @TimDStevens

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