Some 51 students are taking a new course in astrophysics at Evanston Township High School this year, and an unveiling at the school yesterday afternoon gave a possible reason why.
A state-of-the-art planetarium, complete with digital graphic capabilities, was revealed to the public, thanks, in part, to the generosity of Leonard Schaeffer, Class of 1963, who donated $500,000 to the $800,000 project on top of a previous $500,000 donation last year for new STEM labs at the school.
“And when I say state of the art,” declared an enthusiastic Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, “ this IS state of the art!”
Following a brief round of speeches, led by Educational Foundation President Maureen Sippel that included remarks by Michelle Larson, head of the Adler Planetarium, and Faith Vilas, Class of 1969, of the Planetary Science Institute, attendees were ushered inside the newly renovated planetarium and treated to an awe-inspiring video of planet Earth as seen from 500 light years away.
The teacher of the astrophysics class, GionMathias Schelbert, promised to share the facility with students in non-science courses as well as those from Evanston/Skokie District 65, Northwestern University, and the Evanston community at large.
A planetarium is essentially a theater, with comfortable seating, that enables the audience to focus on a spherical-shaped dome upon which images are projected.
Superintendent Witherspoon said that students across the curriculum will be able to study images of the Sistine Chapel and take a tour of the human body, for example, thanks to the IMAX quality of the digital projection equipment.
One of very few schools in the nation to even have a planetarium, the original structure was built in 1968 with gifts from two prominent Evanston families, Thomas G. Murdough and Lawrence B. Perkins. Over succeeding decades, however, the facility fell into disrepair, due to the expense of keeping it up.
But now that the ETHS Foundation has tapped into the generosity of successful ETHS alums, the prospects of maintaining the facility for future generations of Evanston students is considered more likely to be sustained.
Following the presentation, one of the ETHS physics teachers approached Mr. Schaeffer on the lawn outside the planetarium and thanked him for his generosity, saying that before it was rehabilitated, she was reluctant to bring her students into the structure, but now she predicted it will become a valuable tool for her use in exciting students about opportunities in science.