Carnegie Science Center Buhl Digital Dome Laser Installation

The Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA installed four Lightwave Prism Series lasers, creating an amazing visual spectacle and saving the facility 300,000 gallons of water, 30,000kW hours of electricity, and half a million pounds of CO2 emissions annually. It was a new ‘green’ laser installation with millions and millions of laser colors creating brilliant laser light entertainment for thousands of audience members.

The aging system at the Carnegie Science Center was sourced by two obsolete ion lasers piped through an inefficient fiber optic delivery system. Additionally, the show control system was a proprietary system with wire-wrapped connections and components with a proven high rate of failure. Maintenance was constant, and the availability of &ldquo:off the shelf” components ranged from scarce to impossible. The old lasers were absolute power hogs, with an equal appetite for cooling water which was dumped down the drain at full flow rate each night. Alignment and cleaning were difficult, and system performance would suffer on days without this care and attention.

The new installation uses four lasers, each of which is greater than seven times brighter than the old technology. The new laser projectors are approximately the size of a small toaster oven, and are now mounted at the planetarium perimeter along with other familiar planetarium staples such as video projectors, special effects hardware, and even old slide projectors. The new lasers would be difficult to identify among the other equipment, which is a tribute to the small form factor made possible by modern direct-diode laser technology.

The new installation will use approximately 800 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year and no water – but that is only half of the story. If you attempted to duplicate the brightness of this new installation using the currently installed technology the numbers are staggering. Water consumption would be over 1.6 million gallons per year (requiring a 4” main and significant sewage capability), and power consumption would be approximately 250,000 kilowatt-hours (requiring a total of 250 Amps of 480 Volt 3-Phase service). The generation of this energy would be responsible for nearly 500,000 pounds of CO2 emission. These numbers, although staggering, also demonstrate why an installation of this magnitude would not have been attempted, reasonable, or financially possible in the past.

To create incredible full-dome effects, the lasers overlap on the projection surface. Each laser may be selected for either full-dome images or overhead beam effects with a live matrix switcher operated by the operator. Similarly, the operator has multiple show inputs that may be mixed in sync with the music for amazing live performances. Shows are pre-recorded onto a hard drive recording system along with the music content. The operator also has two touchscreen computers available to select live cues. The result is mixed and created live, and to the demands and “ahhhs” of the audience.

The new lasers received their first routine cleaning in February of 2009 after over one full year of active service with NO service calls, NO alignment, NO cleaning, and NO water required.