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UB ‘nerds out’ for solar eclipse

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published August 22, 2017

“I’m nerding out. I think everyone in Buffalo is nerding out. It’s so cool.”
Jessica Naish, staff assistant for personnel, procurement and operations
School of Architecture and Planning

Hundreds of people poured out of UB buildings on Monday to observe the clockwork of the universe — to watch as the moon passed between the sun and the Earth to produce the most prominent solar eclipse in the contiguous United States since 1979.

Offices emptied. Heads turned skyward. Eclipse glasses, with their iconic oblong lenses, went on.

On the North Campus, about 175 people attended a party organized by the physics department on the roof of Fronczak Hall. And on the South Campus — at the height of the eclipse around 2:30 p.m. — dozens of people streamed out of Hayes Hall to observe the spectacle.

The weather was perfect: a blue, mostly clear sky.

For each person, the event held a different allure.

Atop Fronczak, John Cerne, professor of physics, used his smartphone to show the eclipse to his mother, who was in Austria. Chao Guo, a PhD student in medical physics, parked a camera outside of Hayes Hall to photograph the alignment of moon and sun using exposed X-ray film as a filter.

Jessica Naish, staff assistant for personnel, procurement and operations for the School of Architecture and Planning, recalled stargazing in the backyard with her mother — who was “super into astronomy” — when she was a kid.

“I’m nerding out,” Naish said. “I think everyone in Buffalo is nerding out. It’s so cool.”

Progression of the eclipse. Photos: Chao Guo.

Naish joined a crowd of about 20 people who clustered on the lawn between Hayes and Main Street to watch the eclipse using various devices.

Nicholas Rajkovich, assistant professor of architecture, brought a homemade pinhole viewer — a simple contraption crafted from a cardboard box, tape and aluminum foil. UB Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UB SEDS) brought eclipse glasses to share, along with a solar viewing telescope.

About 10 members of the group showed up to spectate. Among them was Mahmood Shilleh, a junior in mechanical engineering, who said he found the eclipse fascinating because it showcased the mechanics of the solar system — the inner workings of the universe.

Owen Langrehr, UB SEDS astronomy lead, was more philosophical: “It gives us perspective on our place in this world ... We go through every day without thinking of the sun, the moon and our grander place in the cosmos. Everyone is going to come outside and check this out and see something amazing that puts things to scale for us.”

Across UB’s campuses, the eclipse brought people of different disciplines together to share in a single event — and that was the true beauty of it, said Nicole Pannullo, assistant to the chair of physics.

Pannullo organized the rooftop party at Fronczak, and said the event came together at the last minute, with informal invitations going out Friday and over the weekend. Flyers were posted in the building on Monday to tell people how to get to the roof.

Pannullo was thrilled by the turnout, which included students, staff members, professors, President Satish K. Tripathi, Provost Charles Zukoski, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robin G. Schulze and many others, including children and other family members.

“I was really surprised at how many people came,” she said. “Everybody brought their children. I could see all the different generations there. I think we had an infant, all the way up to people in their 80s. It was exciting to see that. It affects every generation — science impacts everyone.”