Weber State Physics professor and astronomy enthusiast Dr. Stacy Palen has been busy lately with a TEDx appearance, a speech at Astrocon 2017 and a featured spot in a astronomy documentary.
Dr. Palen has been an active speaker and instructor for nearly 20 years, but she recently gained visibility through the medium of film. A small documentary film company out of San Francisco recently visited Dr. Palen at her farm in Marriott-Slaterville City to gather footage for a new documentary about the recent eclipse called Umbra.
“It was very exciting and a little unnerving,” Palen said. “They just kind of followed me around and filmed me in my natural environment…they spent several hours at my place shooting footage and asking questions. It was a new but very exciting experience.”
Shortly after her film debut, Dr. Palen spoke at an amateur astronomy conference, Astrocon 2017. She was one of several high-profile speakers at the event. “She is a master public speaker,” said Lowell Lyons, chairman of Astrocon 2017. “She was the perfect opening to our event.”
The event drew hundreds of amateur astronomers to Casper, Wyoming, where they participated in four days of activities and demonstrations featuring archaeoastronomy, dying stars and solar eclipses. Dr. Palen became a popular personality at the event. “I have been following Stacy for years. I am one of her biggest fans,” said Lyons. “She is pretty much a hero of mine.”
Dr. Palen spoke about the life of the sun, the corona and what to expect while observing the eclipse. “It was amazing,” said Palen. “Casper College opened the campus to us. They even delayed fall semester for an entire week, and the eclipse —for the entire week prior there was this tag of emotions following me around. Now that it is over, I find myself missing those emotions.”
Former students speak very highly of the educator and her exuberant teaching methods. They recall walking around the classroom while making ambulance sounds to represent the Doppler effect or spinning around on some contraption while learning about angular momentum.
“She made sure we took the knowledge we learned in class and applied it to real world problems,” said Kristen Lee, a former student of Dr. Palen’s and current Ph.D. candidate at the University of Utah. “She finds her joy from studying science.”
The impact Dr. Palen has made on students also extends far beyond the classroom.
“I didn’t have the chance to take any of Dr. Palen’s classes while a student at WSU,” Chris Bentley, alumni, said. “However, her great passion for sustainability and science education meant that I had the great opportunity of rubbing shoulders with her a fair amount.”
In addition to her busy teaching and lecturing schedule and running Weber State’s Ott Planetarium, Dr. Palen is actively engaged in local politics. Citizens of Marriott/Slaterville City will find her on the ballot for mayor this November.
“Even though I may live several states away, Dr. Palen continues to teach and motivate me to do more in my local and national community,” said Bentley. “I’ll definitely be rooting for her in her election and secretly jealous that she can’t be my mayor.”