Soak up the sun: A glimpse back at Monday's historic events of #uchiclipse

On Aug. 21, at a little after 1 in the afternoon, the skies darkened over the University of Chicago.

As the moon made a rare trip across the sun, students, staff and alumni gathered on the Quads, behind the Eckhart Research Center, and in a field at the Laboratory Schools as “Total Eclipse of the Heart” rang across campus from the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel carillon.

For Chemistry professor Yamuna Krishnan, the historic day reminded her of a childhood eclipse event in India that inspired her career in science.

“My dad called me out to look at the eclipse using a strip of film negative,” said Krishnan, who joined more than 200 others to watch the eclipse in the Eckhardt Research Center courtyard. “That’s my first memory of an eclipse, and it’s really what got me interested in science. It just made all the stuff of textbooks, real.”

It was a community atmosphere across campus, as people young and old became scientists for a day, gazing into the sky using eclipse glasses or makeshift pinhole cameras made out of cardboard.

Outside the Laboratory Schools, more than 1,000 people RSVP’d for an event at its athletic field to watch the eclipse. Natalie Hultquist, an eighth-grader at Lab, said she decided to attend just this morning while having breakfast—turning a Rice Krispies box into an eclipse viewer.

“It’s very cool that it’s happening at an age when I can remember it, experience it and be able to tell the story that I was there,” said Hultquist.

For Colin Rennert-May, a high school English teacher at the Laboratory Schools, Monday’s eclipse was a chance to teach science to and bond with his 3-year-old son Jonas.

Together, they shopped and built a giant 5-foot-long pinhole cylindrical camera by taping together two heavy-duty mailing tubes. “So far the pinhole projection hasn’t worked that well with the clouds,” Rennert-May conceded, but regardless, “it will make a nice memory.”

That was certainly the case for UChicago undergraduate student Kathryn Chapman. No stranger to the concept of heavenly bodies crossing, she studies exoplanets, which are frequently discovered when they cross in front of other objects.

“Because I study it all the time, it no longer seems that exciting, so I really wasn’t prepared for how overwhelming it is in person,” she said. “Where I was, it was just completely silent. Everyone was just stunned.”

UChicago community across the country

Those on campus and in Chicago had to catch glimpses of the eclipse between clouds, but across the country, other members of the UChicago community had better luck with the skies. Prof. Edward W. “Rocky” Kolb, dean of the Division of Physical Sciences, traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo.—following in the metaphorical footsteps of astronomy professors from the University, who traveled to dozens of total eclipses to take measurements from 1893 through the mid-20th century. One of them included a disastrous 1923 trip to California’s Santa Catalina island, which fogged over; a photographer captured the group’s sorrowful rendition of “Yes, we have no corona,” (accompanied by the handsaw).

Another group of students from the Astronomy department headed to Kansas City. After a hasty detour to get out of the path of an oncoming storm, astronomy graduate student Emily Gilbert scored her chance to see the full eclipse in totality.