ZEISS Planetarium Talks

ZEISS Planetarium Talks

Anika Smolinski

"I have threaded more than 300,000 stars"

Anika Smolinski, Star Threader

After leaving school in 1995, I applied for jobs all over Jena and the region. I had already been accepted by a company where I would have been trained as a porcelain painter. Three days before I was due to start, ZEISS called and I got an apprenticeship as a precision optician. After 3.5 years of training, my instructors decided that I was well suited to the job of threading stars. I could not do anything with this at first, as I came from the round optics area where work is mainly performed on machines. However, in hindsight, this was absolutely right because threading stars is a pure craft and requires a lot of dexterity. I love this work with really small and delicate parts.

I received on-the-job training from the star threader at the time, who was about to retire. There were so many things to think about as every projector is different – but I love a challenge. For the new Asterion projector, I helped develop the threading process and created a timetable, as the projector is much smaller. This means that just as many stars have to be accommodated in less space. We were even able to automate one work step.

In the past, the stars were pierced into a copper disk, but now the stars are glass fibers that I thread into a hole under a microscope using tweezers. This hole is one of many that were previously shot into a plate using a laser. To date, we have manufactured over 50 ZKP4 projects. Each planetarium projector consists of another 32 hand-made smaller fixed star projectors. This means that I have threaded over 300,000 stars in the last 23 years. Almost every ZEISS planetarium in the world uses my threaded stars. There is something very special about that.

Ann Lakey

"Our love was written in the stars"

Ann Lakey, Project Manager

After graduating from high school, I studied business administration at the University of Jena and worked for the Chair of Marketing for a year after graduating. As my professor accepted a position at another university in 1998, I sent an unsolicited application to ZEISS. After a one-year internship, I was offered the position of project manager in the Planetariums division as part of the partial retirement program introduced in 1996 and have now been working in this job for 25 years. I still sit in the same place as on my first day at work, but things never get boring.

As a project manager, I mainly look after customers and prospective customers. I take care of managing the project from initial contact through to commissioning. Here, my colleagues and I have divided up the world into regions: I mainly look after the USA, Canada, German-speaking countries, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia. What I particularly like about my work is the community. It is very informal. You travel a lot around the world, but when you enter a dome, it's like a second home, like a living room but for work.

I also met my husband in a dome. At the time, he was a programmer and demonstrator at the planetarium in St. Louis, USA, and came to Jena with his team for the factory acceptance test of the ZEISS projector. We liked each other straight away. We never lost sight of each other, but it took us 10 years to get together. Somehow it was never the right time: I was married with three children, he was living in the USA with his son and was now running the planetarium. Despite everything, we finally got married in 2013 and have been living in Jena with our four children since 2015 after two years of being in a long-distance relationship. And we continue to work together, but now as direct colleagues: he trains and advises our customers on how to use our systems, supports our marketing department with the creation of videos and tutorials, gives demonstrations of our technology for potential customers and translates content for documents and websites. Planetariums brought us together, and "Our love was written in the stars" was even the theme of our wedding.

Martin Kraus

"I've always had my eye on planetariums"

Martin Kraus, Head of ZEISS Planetariums

I studied mechanical engineering at Aalen University and wrote my thesis on machine elements in a CAD system. Then I saw a job advertisement from industrial metrology at ZEISS, which was looking for a software developer whose job precisely matched the topic of my thesis. I applied, even though I didn't have a degree in computer science, and was hired as a software development engineer in 1986. After five years, I joined the central development services in the research department. That was 1991, the year when ZEISS in Jena and Oberkochen merged.

The development services in particular had to coordinate a lot, for example standardizing the numbering system so that the Development departments could work according to the same processes. As a result, I have always had an eye on the Planetariums division, whose product relocation to Jena I was also involved in. Back then, I would never have believed that I would one day be in charge of this division. In 2001, I joined Medical Technology. I was previously able to qualify for a management program and worked there for a total of 17 years in various positions, most recently as Head of Operations in Jena. In 2018, the position of Head of Planetariums was advertised. However, I kept my application in a drawer for a few weeks because I was worried about my chances. But then everything happened very quickly.

With 30 employees, we are certainly almost the smallest ZEISS division, but one with a very large external impact. Of course, I travel a lot, attend meetings, conferences and visit planetariums. For me, the customers are one of the best things about the planetariums business. They are people from the cultural or scientific sector who have a passion and strive to bring it to life. When I'm at the congresses, it's an informal atmosphere, simply a very friendly community. And the topic of stars and space inspires everyone, including me. I often think to myself: don't I have a great job? I even get paid to go to the planetarium.

Dr. Christian Dick

"We were the first to visualize a black hole in 3D for the dome"

Dr. Christian Dick, Director of Software Development

After studying computer science at the Technical University of Munich, I worked on the topic of computer graphics and visualization in my doctorate and continued my research as a postdoc for three years after completing it. My research areas involved interactive visualizations of large amounts of data, such as the visualization of landscape data. I have developed methods that allow you to fly interactively over high-resolution, large-scale terrain data, for example, very smoothly and without jolting. Then I looked around for a job in industry and found an interesting vacancy at ZEISS Planetariums that perfectly matched my specialist knowledge. I have been working as a software architect at ZEISS since 2015 and have been Head of the Software department for four years. I now manage a team of six people, all of whom have top training and are highly motivated – that gives me a great deal of pleasure.

For me, the special thing about a planetarium is that it is a place where scientific knowledge is made accessible to the general public. However, the 360-degree all-round view really immerses you in the subject and gives you much more intensive access than on a flat screen. I was really interested in astronomy from a very early age. I went to the planetarium at the Deutsches Museum in Munich as a child. The visualizations are always a great experience for children and really exciting.

At work, I deal much more extensively with astronomical topics like black holes. If you look at the different types of black holes that exist, the enormous sizes that occur – it's truly impressive what happens in the universe. Our team has just become the first to visualize a black hole in 3D for the domes. These visualizations are based on scientific findings and the current state of the art and provide a high-resolution and true-to-life image of the object. This also brings us ever closer to my wish that in future we could fly through the universe in the dome and get a more or less seamless impression that we are actually there.


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100 years of ZEISS Planetariums
100 years of ZEISS Planetariums

100 years of ZEISS Planetariums

Enabling travel through space and time.