The campus community comes out to have fun and celebrate science on the first day of classes
Aug 23, 2017 | Atlanta, GA
It felt like a pep rally for science.
A once-in-a-century nationwide solar eclipse that provided 97 percent totality in the skies above Atlanta quickly became a campus celebration. Students and other members of the Georgia Tech community filled Tech Green, the steps around the Kessler Campanile, and the rooftop garden at the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons. The BioTech Quad, Tech Square and other rooftops were also packed. Thousands took part – in 90-degree heat, no less.
They patiently stood in long lines for free eclipse viewing glasses. They listened to astronomy-themed music, took photos of each other as they posed in commemorative frames, and watched a live feed of the eclipse from the Georgia Tech Observatory’s telescope. Others took data readings. Everybody ate Moon Pies.
“Woodstock comes to Georgia Tech,” says Paul Goldbart, Sutherland Chair and Dean of the College of Sciences. (For younger students whose idea of large music festivals involve Coachella and Bonaroo, Goldbart is referring to a famous 1969 rock music gathering that started it all.)
The weather cooperated; there were enough cloud breaks to allow those using their glasses to check on the eclipse’s progress through the early afternoon as the sun slowly morphed from fiery disk to hungry Pac-Man to flaming crescent.
Shortly before peak partiality – 2:36 p.m. – a cheer came from the crowd. The sun and the moon were showing off during one of the rarest events in astronomy, and the Georgia Tech audience showed its appreciation.
All on the first day of fall classes.
The College of Sciences and the Office of Undergraduate Education may have planned the day’s activities and secured the eclipse glasses for distribution to the Tech community, but this was an interdisciplinary eclipse. Students from the School of Psychology conducted informal poster sessions on the psychology of eclipses. That school and the School of Interactive Computing also offered a Sonification Lab with sounds assigned to celestial bodies and events, so the visually impaired need not miss out on such phenomena.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the totality path in Rabun County, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Morris Cohen was using balloons and the eclipse’s unique mix of sunshine and darkness to study the ionosphere.
That research is part of Georgia Tech’s stated vision and mission: to lead in science and technology and to provide progress and service with the innovation and entrepreneurship developed on campus. Eclipse 2017 @ Georgia Tech’s impact also illustrates why our researchers chose science as their life’s work in the first place and why our students choose to come here. Something in their life experiences sparked their interest in biotechnology, astrophysics, algorithms. They feel Georgia Tech is the best place for them to seek answers about science and about themselves.
Yes, it was a fun time on campus and a unique, historic way to begin the school year. If one student was thrilled as that cheer went up while he/she looked to a temporarily darkened sky, if some of the younger children in attendance are now inspired about science, if anybody else now has The Spark to learn and innovate at Georgia Tech, then it was worth the long lines and late summer heat.
The sky got darker in the middle of the day on Monday. We’re betting lights are now shining in minds across campus, around our city, and across the country. That’s definitely worth cheering.