Pajarito Environmental Education Center volunteers Paul Arendt, left, and Galen Gisler at PEEC. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
Volunteering at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) has brought Galen Gisler and Paul Arendt new discoveries and experiences.
Working at the PEEC’s planetarium is more than just an opportunity to gain new knowledge or keep busy. Gisler and Arendt see their volunteer positions as a chance give something to the community.
Arendt started working at PEEC in 2010. He started as a treasurer on the board and played a role as an intermediary between the County, PEEC and the contractor for the new Los Alamos Nature Center.
Gisler was approached by Chick Keller, one of the founders of PEEC, at Smith’s to volunteer at PEEC in 2013 and he became directly in the organization in 2014.
Arendt said, “It’s fun to give back to the community.” He added because a lot of intelligent people live in this town, he can be asked some pretty clever questions during the different shows. “We can get stumped,” Arendt joked.
Gisler agreed. “The interaction with the public is the greatest thing,” he said.
Working in a planetarium is Gisler’s forte. His first visit to a planetarium was when he was 19. Gisler said he loved the dark night skies he experienced growing up in Clovis.
“The idea of a planetarium as a way to learn astronomy and to teach astronomy was what has always excited me about them,” he said.
He is trained as an astrophysicist and he said he spent his formative years in planetariums. So when Keller presented the opportunity to return to the familiar setting, Gisler took it. “The opportunity to actually run a planetarium in my own little town was too much; I couldn’t resist.”
Although Arendt did not spend his career as an astrophysicist, he enjoys giving presentations on some of the latest discoveries being made experts in the field. “It was a wonderful opportunity to expand my knowledge … while doing shows. When you retire you need new things to keep you stimulated,” he said.
For instance, Gisler traveled to Wyoming along with a group of high school students to participate in the CATE (Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse) Experiment, which occurred during this year’s solar eclipse. The project, he explained, captured images of the inner solar corona using a network of telescopes, which were operated by citizen scientists, high school groups and universities throughout the nation. The students contributed data for the project and Gisler said their names and contributions will be included in the scientific papers for the project.
It was a special experience, he said. “Taking these kids to Wyoming and watching them blossom and their thrill and wonder watching this unique event was gratifying.”
Another experience that sticks out to Arendt and Gisler is the presentation by fellow volunteer Rick Wallace that delved into the science behind the movie, “The Martian.”
Arendt said it is never a question about what to do but if there enough room to do it. He added, “We try to make the shows interactive … because the worst thing we can do is bore the audience.”
Offering variety is also beneficial, Arendt said. “We like to do a variety because that’s what stimulates (people). We try to sprinkle in new things. We like for them to keep coming back with enthusiasm.”