For 30 years, the Hopkins Planetarium at the Science Museum of Western Virginia (SMWV) served as a place for students and community members to learn and enjoy immersive experiences relating to science and technology. Students from surrounding schools had the opportunity to explore the night skies and learn about outer space; couples could visit on a Friday night to enjoy a laser light show. 

After funds fell short during the museum’s renovations in 2013, the planetarium remained in the same state that it had been for the past 30 years.  In May of 2018, the museum set their sights on the next evolution of the planetarium: The Eye

Inspiring Innovation Through Partnerships

The idea for The Eye was birthed out of the SMWV’s longstanding partnership with Virginia Tech, which was established in 2011 after identifying an opportunity to bridge the innovation and technology coming out of the university with the rich cultural hub of Downtown Roanoke. This partnership would provide the museum with the resources to have up to date exhibits and access to science and technology experts for educational programming. The university would gain access to new community audiences and strengthen the impact of their work. 

“The Eye emulates our mission entirely,” says Rachel Hopkins, Executive Director of the museum. “We hope to build and share this educational resource with our region and create a space that puts Roanoke on the map as a community that values the sciences.”

The revolutionary technology behind The Eye was created by scientists at Virginia Tech and mimics the experience of The Cube, located at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, & Technology. Using the Elumenati’s OmniFocus projection system, The Eye will be able to produce a 360-degree content viewing experience like no other. The fully immersive augmented reality display will allow students and community members to experience data, storytelling, and learning like never before.

Why It’s Important 

Expanding Horizons for STEAM Education

Upon opening, The Eye will be the only space of its kind on the East Coast and will serve as one of the most high-tech classrooms in the country for the 36,000 students that are educated at the museum each year. Educators will have access to a large library of free content that can be leveraged for a variety of SOL-based topics. The Eye will be able to engage students in a way that speaks to their experiences in the modern digital world. 

Providing a Resource for Local Businesses and Institutions

The possibilities for content creation and display with The Eye are endless. Whether it’s a robotics company trying to emulate the experience of riding in an autonomous vehicle or a group of firefighters training to identify building safety hazards during an emergency, The Eye can serve as a resource for organizations looking to step into the future. 

Strengthening the Region’s Innovative Identity

With the proposed Innovation Corridor in Roanoke, powered by the presence and growth of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, our region is experiencing a boost in tourism and a stronger innovative identity. Researchers and engineers will be able to utilize The Eye to present world-class research and innovative concepts to peers and the general public. This will strengthen our regions ability to recruit top scientists and researchers. As the only space of its kind in this area of the United States, we expect that researchers and scientists will come far and wide to utilize the space and share their ideas.

Aside from industrial and corporate tourism boost, we also expect tourists from the general public to flock to public events in The Eye. We hope to bring back traditional classics like laser shows and starry nights. Imagine watching a Virginia Tech basketball game in 3-D from the comfort of the planetarium. 

How to Show Your Support

Technology like this requires investment. Because the infrastructure of the dome already exists, Science Museum of Western Virginia only needs to raise a $500,000 to complete the renovation. With the help of corporate and foundation contributions from the community and a $100,000 matching grant from a family foundation in Richmond, VA, the museum is hopeful to begin renovations in early 2020. 

The Science Museum of Western Virginia is looking to the community to help them raise the remaining funds needed. If you’re interested in supporting the future of STEM education, research, and tourism in the Roanoke Valley, donate through the SMWV’s GoFundMe page. 


About the Science Museum of Western Virginia

The mission of the Science Museum of Western Virginia is to make science and technology accessible to all people by being an outstanding regional institution that ignites and nurtures life-long learning. They fulfill their mission by providing interactive exhibits, offering innovative programs, and creating an atmosphere that stimulates curiosity and wonder.

©2024 Roanoke Cultural Endowment. All rights reserved.