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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.

Superintendent Witherspoon outside the structure

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.

Under the dome with teacher Schelbert

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.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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3 Comments

  1. More on Evanston and Physics
    In that so many articles about Evanston authors and ETHS students/grads, I’d like to point out an ETHS grad who has written a number of books. Leonard Mlodinow of CalTech [also wrote for ‘Star Trek’

    ‘The Drunkard’s Walk’
    ‘The Grand Design’ Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
    ‘A Briefer History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
    ‘The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos’
    ‘War of the Worldviews: Where Science and Spirituality Meet — and Do Not’ by Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow
    ‘Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life’
    ‘Einstein Elementary Chapter Book #1’ by M.Costello Mlodinow, L. Mlodinow and Josh Nash
    ‘Euclid’s Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace’
    ‘Some Time with Feynman’
    ‘A Briefer History in Time’ by Stephen W. Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
    ‘The Kids of Einstein Elementary: Titanic Cat’, co-authored with Matt Costello and Josh Nash
    ‘The Kids of Einstein Elementary: The Last Dinosaur’ co-authored with Matt Costello and Josh Nash

  2. Any additional math/scientists from ETHS ?
    One I think of is Amie Wilkinson now a professor of math at Univ. of Chicago previously a professor at NU]..
    I’m sure there are more—or I at least hope so !
    The arts [music, theater, pop books] and social causes get a lot of Evanston press.
    Long past time that the sciences get some credit and press.

    1. Additional physicist here
      I’m class of 1983, and after receiving my PhD in experimental physics from Purdue, I’ve been teaching physics at multiple schools, including Indiana University Southeast, University of Louisville, and Ivy Tech Community College. I even teach astronomy sometimes. I owe it all to Mr. Horton, my senior year AP physics teacher. And yes, I still remember the old planetarium.

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