Astronomy professor Charles St Lucas combines his two passions—astronomy and music—to teach University of Nebraska at Omaha students about space and to reach for the stars.
St Lucas fell in love with astronomy during a camping trip when he was 10 years old.
“I was hooked immediately,” St Lucas said. “It was a jet black sky with brilliant diamonds for stars, all different distances away.”
After graduating from UNO, St Lucas has had a diverse career. He taught astronomy at the U.S. air force for eight years and was the chair of the department of astronomy at The Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville, South Carolina. When he came back to UNO, he felt at home.
“I have a real connection with UNO. I went to school here,” St Lucas said. “It feels like home here. When I went to South Carolina for 9 years, coming back was like coming home.”
St Lucas was the first person to do a show in UNO’s planetarium. The planetarium was the eighth leading attraction in Omaha, he said. There were laser shows every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“Even if there were only two people in the audience, we gave a show,” St Lucas said. “We had publicity all over the place. We made enough money with our laser shows to pay for the planetarium. We would get sell-out crowds for our laser shows.”
St Lucas’ other passion, music, has been a large part of his life and career.
“I teach space during the day and play bass during the night,” St Lucas said.
As an undergrad, St Lucas supported himself through music. He played with bands every weekend to make money.
Today, St Lucas plays for the Intergenerational Orchestra, the Kanesville Symphony, MonkeyFunk, the Nelson Brothers and Inspiritus. He plays the bass guitar, drums and keyboard.
“The more academia I do, the more I need to do art,” St Lucas said. “It balances me.”
Playing music also ties into St Lucas’ teaching methods.
I can write songs that have scientific meanings to them. All of the planets and all of the stars give off their own frequencies and vibrations,” St Lucas said. “If you re-modulate those into audio frequencies, you can hear them.”
St Lucas said music engages his students. He said if students enjoy what they are learning, they are more passionate. One of St Lucas’ students, Luis Cuevas, said St Lucas’s passion rubbed off on him.
“He is a very passionate person,” Cuevas said. “You can feel it by the tone of his voice. The class was immediately enraptured by how he approached each topic. It’s almost miraculous that he can explain topics so complex.”
St Lucas enjoys teaching complex topics because he loves seeing the moment his students understand.
“My favorite moment is the ‘a-ha moment’,” St. Lucas said. “When I teach them a complex topic and they get it, you can just see it in their eyes. That’s why I teach. Those are the moments I go through all the trouble for.”
St Lucas hopes that his students find a career they love, just as he has. “Find your passion,” St Lucas said. “Find what you want to do, and pursue it with all your heart. You will be rewarded in the end.”