ZEISS Planetarium Talks

ZEISS Planetarium Talks

Anika Smolinski's profile

"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's profile

"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' profile

"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.

Christian Dick's profile

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

Dr. Christian Dick, Head 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 brings you much closer 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.

Matthias Herold's profile

"At Planetariums, we manage to bring the infinite vastness of the universe and all its facets into domes of every size and thus make it more tangible for people"

Matthias Herold, Head of Production & Logistics for Planetariums

After graduating from high school, I was in the German army for a short period of time. Shortly before becoming an officer, I realized that I was more likely to get satisfaction from a job in the private sector. So I decided to study industrial engineering at the University of Applied Sciences Jena. My first compulsory internship also took me to ZEISS for the first time as part of mechanical production. While writing my thesis, I was also a working student in the Planetariums division, where I helped out at the secretary's office and had contact with all divisions, colleagues and many customers. In 2008, I was hired as a permanent employee on a trainee contract.

After around three years, I had the honor of being appointed Head of Assembly and have been responsible for production and logistics in this division ever since. I was and am not an astronomy fanatic, but seeing the optomechanical starry sky on the dome absolutely fascinates me every time. My eyes lit up during my first visit to the planetarium in Jena. Even after numerous service and installation jobs for customers, the moment when the lights go out and the stars start to move across the dome is still the best part of the whole job. Contact with our customers is very important to me in my job as Head of Production and Logistics. That way, you always learn something new about your work.

One of my favorite experiences in the division so far was the conversion to LED at the Berlin Planetarium. It was my first really big assignment out in the field, working on our large device and on the weekend before the planetarium opened. There really wasn't much time and nothing could go wrong. Seeing the stars with the new LED lighting in even greater sharpness was absolutely a breathtaking wow moment – for me and for the customer. At Planetariums, we manage to bring the infinite vastness of the universe and all its facets into domes of every size and thus make it more tangible for people. It's a great feeling and fills you with pride.

Anny Marleen Hissbach's profile

"As a software developer, I visualize the universe in planetariums"

Anny Marleen Hissbach, Software/IT Developer

After completing my bachelor's degree in media informatics in Weimar in 2015, I decided to also do a master's degree in computer science in Jena. In 2020, I applied for a student trainee position in the Planetariums division at ZEISS. While I was there, I provided support in content management for the UNIVIEW planetarium software. I have been part of the Planetariums team since then.

At first, I didn't even think that, as a computer scientist, I would also be able to develop software for planetariums. It wasn't until I visited the planetarium in Jena during my studies that I thought: a planetarium like this actually needs software and people to develop it. When I sat at the control desk in the dome at ZEISS for the first time, I had a realization: now I'm a software developer who makes it possible for people to see into the vastness of space.

I've always found space and astronomy interesting. The thing I was most fascinated about was black holes. This complete distinction from the concept of the theory of relativity. It still amazes me today how big the world and the universe are. New discoveries are constantly being made, but we are still far from running out of unanswered questions. For my master's thesis, I programmed a visualization of a black hole for the planetarium. Thanks to this, planetarium guests can now marvel at black holes in real time on the dome.

That's the beauty of my job. As a software developer, I visualize the universe in planetariums. In the Planetariums division, I have the opportunity to indirectly contribute to education and scientific communication. Through my work, we can show the public things that no one else would ever see.

Sebastian Schmitt's profile

"The most fascinating thing about my job is the moment when I put the projector into operation for the first time"

Sebastian Schmitt, Designer

After my apprenticeship as a technical drawer, I completed a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Applied Sciences Jena. As a young professional, my first stop was an engineering office in Weimar. I wanted to work for a big company, so I applied for a job at ZEISS. In October 2018, I started working as a detail designer in the Planetariums division. Today I am a designer. I was sent on a business trip to Nagoya in Japan during my second year at the company. While there, I was able to take over the maintenance of the Universarium in the world's largest planetarium dome. Standing there was overwhelming. That was my best experience so far, and I've been a big fan of Japan ever since. That's the beauty here at ZEISS: you don't just do work that is found in your job description, but also lots of other tasks.

I remember the first time I went to the Jena Planetarium when I was eight years old. Even back then I wondered how the projector in the middle was assembled. I thought it was amazing how the giant sphere with all the lenses moved and conjured up the stars on the dome. Now I'm sitting here, 26 years later, and I'm one of the designers who invents these projectors. I would never have dared to dream that big.

The most fascinating thing about my job is the moment when you put a projector into operation for the first time. When you switch on the light of the projector, you see so many stars appear above you within just a few seconds. Unfortunately, in our light-polluted cities today, we can see very little of our Milky Way and the many thousands of visible stars. We probably wouldn't even know what is going on in our skies without the technology we invent. I am therefore delighted that we are able to provide an unadulterated view of a natural night sky thanks to our projection.

Johannes Böhme's profile

"Every day I have the privilege of working on exceptional products"

Johannes Böhme, Development Engineer

After graduating from technical college, I completed a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering/automation technology at the Cooperative State University in Gera. I had the advantage of being able to gain practical experience during my studies. I then went to Dresden to start my master's degree in electrical engineering. In fall 2022, I successfully completed my studies and started looking for a job. As a graduate, it was exciting to find a suitable position. In December 2022, I started my career at ZEISS as a development engineer for electronics in the Planetariums division.

I have now been working for almost a year on the development of electronics in a planetarium projector – from control cabinets to circuit boards. The first major project that I was involved in was ASTERION with a lift. This is a special edition of ASTERION that enables the Starball to be lowered from the center of the dome. We assembled and commissioned this version together as a team for the first time. Following our success, the device is now used in the planetarium at the Seoul Science Park in South Korea to project a realistic, starry sky.

I am proud to be part of a team that gives other people a view of the starry sky. Every day I have the privilege of working on exceptional products. What impresses me most is that we build devices that bring other people closer to the universe. Very few people have the pleasure of seeing the starry sky as shown by planetarium projectors every day. Standing in the dome is a truly special feeling. I am personally particularly fascinated by the "Cassiopeia" constellation, it really interests me!

Franco Dittert at his workplace at ZEISS

"Orion often proves especially tricky"

Franco Dittert, Star Threader

After finishing school, I trained as an optician in Rosenheim and then worked as an assistant in Kufstein, Austria, after completing my civilian service. After twelve years, I needed to look for another job due to the order situation and, since there was a ZEISS site in our neighborhood in Neubeuern, I applied there and worked in the 3D laser technology department. Back then, it was all "learning by doing," my boss had previously worked as a watchmaker, there were colleagues who were trained toolmakers, it mainly involved manual work – it was exactly my thing.

As an optician, I was also increasingly drawn to the workshop. Then, at an onboarding event in Oberkochen, I visited the smallest planetarium in the world and the guide explained star threading, which really impressed me. In 2020, I saw a job ad for a star threader in Jena. I wanted to apply, so I drove to Jena with my wife and child in our camper. We went on vacation and took a look around. We really liked the villages nestled in the valley, and they reminded us a little of the Allgäu region.

When I got the job, we moved from Bavaria to Thuringia. I started on 1 December 2020 and am learning a lot of new things every day. I mainly thread the stars for the Asterion projector, I also color the stars. Orion is the most work because of the many colors that are very close together. This often proves especially tricky. When I see the finished result under the dome, it's always a wonderful moment.

Dr. Andreas Schmidt standing in the office at ZEISS

"The magic of a planetarium is that you get closer to the universe than anywhere else in the world"

Dr. Andreas Schmidt, Marketing Manager

After finishing my bachelor's degree in physics at the University of Jena, I completed my master's degree in physics with a focus on astrophysics in Bochum in 2006. I then switched to research for my doctorate. I worked as a researcher and lecturer for several years at various institutions, primarily at the University of Leipzig. There, for example, I explored the interior of the earth with the help of constant noise. Before I started at ZEISS, I worked as Scientific Director of the planetarium in Erkrath, just outside Düsseldorf, for five years. I have been a board member of the Gesellschaft Deutschsprachiger Planetarien e.V., the Society of German-speaking Planetariums, since 2019.

Astronomy has interested me since I was very young: I always wanted to build my own observatory – and it's still something I'm considering today! Astronomy, and therefore physics in general, is the science of everything that surrounds us. The greatest thing that exists is what surrounds us: space. The magic of a planetarium is that you get closer to the universe than anywhere else in the world.

When I accepted the position of Marketing Manager at ZEISS Planetariums in November 2022, I came full circle. A personal highlight from my first year at ZEISS was attending a conference outside Europe. Those were my first steps on the American continent. Whilst there, I had my first personal contact with planetariums that I had previously only known from the internet or email. That's when I realized what ZEISS can do.

I put my first telescope on my balcony when I was 12 years old. It was small and not much more than a pair of binoculars. But at least I could explore the surface of the moon for hours. I realized that the moon is there to arouse our curiosity and interest in something greater than ourselves. Without it, there would probably be hardly any space research.

Sophia Dannberg standing in front of a projector in the planetarium

"My father showed and explained the stars to me when I was a child"

Sophia Dannberg, Sales Representative

After finishing my bachelor's degree in economics and languages in Zwickau and in Spain, I completed my master's degree at Saarland University in Saarbrücken and in France in 2014. As part of an internship, I then joined a company for electrical components near Strasbourg, and after my studies I worked in supply chain management at a large site of the company in France.

Seven years ago, I returned to my hometown of Jena. Of course, I had already visited a planetarium during kindergarten and school, and my youth inauguration took place there too. The planetarium and the stars were present in my life from a very early age: my father is a design engineer in the Planetarium division at ZEISS. He often took me and my brother to places without light in the evening, usually to the mountains around Jena, to show us the stars. He taught us how to recognize the most important constellations and how to find our way from one star to another. I am delighted that we are now colleagues.

As a Sales Representative, I am the face to the customer and look after them from the very first contact until the opening. I take care of all the project management, i.e. concluding contracts, project implementation, deadlines and upgrades. Each project is unique. I mainly look after customers from Southern Europe, South America, New Zealand, Australia and the UK. I travel to conferences a lot, but we also often invite customers to Jena and demonstrate our products.

We have everything here on site. Our demo dome is currently being completely rebuilt and modernized. It will be equipped with the latest systems for our international meeting with planetarium customers from all over the world this summer. The starry sky under the dome will then shine even more brightly and offer customers an even better experience.

100 years of ZEISS Planetariums
100 years of ZEISS Planetariums

100 years of ZEISS Planetariums

Enabling travel through space and time.