Magic Flickers in the Darkness

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Magic Flickers in the Darkness


Eileen Wilcox, SPS Member, and Adam Lark, Assistant Professor of Instruction and Director of the Peters Observatory, Hamilton College

On a dark, lonely hill at Hamilton College, magic flickers in the darkness. One year ago the college’s secluded solar classroom resembled an overstuffed storage unit. SPS member Leenie Wilcox saw an opportunity to revitalize the space, and with the help of Professor Adam Lark, she converted the classroom into a museum and art installation.

The deep-blue walls have transformed into maps of the heavens and their constellations. Thousands of stars stretch across the ceiling to form the Milky Way. The shelves are lined with treasures. Hundred-year-old textbooks on mathematics and optics exhibit woodcut diagrams. Optical tubes with trap doors for film cartridges preach of a grittier era in astronomy. Hand-crafted telescopes draw in marveling eyes.

Beauty, however, was not the only goal of the project. The room was designed to inspire. To marry art and science in their shared goal of revealing the complexity of the universe and one’s small place in it. To divorce the human experience from clutter and to view the world with clarity.

As a creative solution for outdoor events in the COVID era, Hamilton’s SPS chapter held numerous Observatory Nights. Individuals from all corners of campus gathered to see the stars and view the solar classroom. Students apprehensive and uncomfortable in a science classroom found themselves beside physics students. Between moments of awe—when eyes were drawn upward through telescopes, paintings, and open skies—barriers wilted as conversations and friendships blossomed. It is impossible to know what might inspire or direct a student’s life, but bringing physics into the realm of approachable curiosity may open minds to what is possible with science.

Students visit the solar classroom at Hamilton College, which an SPS member turned into a museum and art installation. During Observatory Nights, individuals from all corners of campus gathered to see the stars and view the classroom. Pictured are Grace Godwin (left) and Eileen Wilcox (right). Photo courtesy of Samantha D'angelo.

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