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June 8, 2017

Viewership for rare solar event to eclipse 1918 predecessor; School of Earth and Space Exploration to provide ways to view it

The “Great American Eclipse” is making a return engagement this summer.

On Aug. 21, the sun, moon and Earth will realign for a spectacular total solar eclipse event, one that will cast a shadow of darkness coast-to-coast across the contiguous United States for the first time in almost a century. It’s expected to be the most watched, most photographed and most televised astronomical event of a generation.

And why not? We have the technology.

Researchers and scientists at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration are gearing up for the big event and making sure the public has multiple options to witness what could only be seen by a fortunate few on June 8, 1918 — the last time the path of totality for a solar eclipse occurred over America.

As basis for comparison, consider this passage from the June 8, 1918, edition of the Topeka (Kansas) State Journal, where 90 percent of a normal day’s sunlight plunged into darkness as a result of the eclipse: “Those who will be lucky enough to make the journey to any of the towns over which the shadow of the eclipse will appear will do well to get as near the center of the favored zone as possible. It will not be necessary to take a telescope, but a smoked or dark glass can be used to advantage to watch the progress of the moon in its preliminary phase, the glass should be discarded as soon as the totality arrives.”

“Observations in 1918 were mostly limited to the human eye and photographic plates,” said Patrick Young, an astrophysicist who will be representing ASU in IdahoIdaho is one of the states in the eclipse's path of totality and one of the closest destinations to witness the total solar eclipse for people in Arizona. for the observance of the upcoming total solar eclipse. “There wasn’t even a reliable color photo process at the time, so scientists employed artists to paint the eclipse.”

It did, however, mark what Young describes as the first use of what we might consider a modern scientific instrument in eclipse observations: a photoelectric photometer.

A photoelectric photometer. Photo by John Dickel/National Park Service

Flash-forward 99 years and the recommendations for an immersive eclipse experience quickly reminds us of the journey traveled and advancements made to connect with our Solar System. On Aug. 21, ASU’s School of Earth and Science Exploration will provide access to the eclipse through live-streaming broadcasts; a 3-D theater presentation in the Marston Exploration Theater in Tempe; and outdoor solar telescopes for public use.

Still, even in the midst of limited technology in 1918, the uniqueness and universality of the eclipse was far from lost on observers. As the Topeka State Journal accurately and excitedly pointed out for the times: “Not until 2017 will another total solar eclipse be visible over so large an area of this country, and it is rare that an eclipse track anywhere in the world offers so great a choice of accessible sites for observing the eclipse.”

Young agrees with the awe felt during a total solar eclipse, sharing his own experience in seeing one in Europe in 1999.

“Words can’t do justice to the experience of totality,” he said. “For those in the path, in the instant before the moon covers the sun completely you'll see the diamond ring effect, where the sunlight shines through gaps between mountains on the lunar limb. Everything changes at totality. It will be much darker. Many people can feel a temperature drop. The wispy solar corona will extend several times the sun's size into the surrounding sky. With luck or a small telescope or binoculars you'll be able to see bright pink prominences near the limb.”

The eclipse's list of 'firsts'

What also makes the “Great American Eclipse” an anomaly this year is the fact that the path of totality will occur exclusively within one country — the first such occurrence since America gained its independence in 1776. Other widely reported firsts related to the 2017 eclipse:

  • First total solar eclipse visible from the United States since July 1991, when an eclipse passed through a part of Hawaii.
  • First solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States since February 1979, when the phenomenon moved across the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota.

Path — past and projected

In 1918, the path of the total solar eclipse began in the Borodino Islands south of Japan, crossed the Pacific Ocean and then moved west to east through the United States — from Washington to Florida — before finishing near Bermuda. The largest city to see totality was Denver.

This year, the eclipse is expected to begin in the middle of the North American Pacific Ocean, then travel across at least 14 states, from Oregon through South Carolina. Millions of Americans living within the corridor of the path of totality will experience about two minutes and 40 seconds of darkness. The maximum duration of totality will occur over Illinois, according to Young. Everyone in the continental United States will get at least a partial eclipse this time around.

Map of the path of the total solar eclipse happening in August 2017
The path of totality for this year's solar eclipse is expected to travel across states from Oregon through South Carolina. Image by NASA

 The next total solar eclipse after the 2017 event is not too far off — April 8, 2024. The path for that eclipse will be visible across North America and Central America.

Safety first

In witnessing this rare event, Young urges everyone to take precautions.

“It’s an impressive thing to see with proper eye protection,” he said. “Even part of the sun is dangerously bright, so do not look at it without protection. ... There are special eclipse glasses that are available from various sources. Do a little research and make sure they come from a reputable company. Welding glass works as a filter, and solar filters are available for telescopes.”

ASU eclipse research  

Young and other members of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration will be in Idaho to cover the total eclipse on Aug. 21. While Young assists in coordinating the capture of a virtual-reality experience for those who can’t make it to the path of totality, Associate Research Professional Sheri Klug will be representing ASU at a NASA event. Young says most of the science they will explore will focus on the interface between the sun’s visible surface and its tenuous atmosphere.

“This transfer of energy and the behavior of the sun's magnetic field at its surface are incredibly complex and only partially understood processes, and the eclipse gives us a unique opportunity to make observations of the lower atmosphere of the sun in many wavelengths of light without being overwhelmed.”

Top photo courtesy of NASA/The Exploratorium

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Biomimicry exhibit celebrates nature-inspired design.
June 9, 2017

ASU artists, scientists collaborate in nature-inspired designs at Tempe Center for Arts

Biomimicry is an approach to problem-solving that looks at how nature has already done it. In this philosophy, people create a sustainable lifestyle by observing how animals and plants have overcome obstacles in adapting to the environment.

A new exhibit at the Tempe Center for the Arts, “Biomimicry: Nature Inspired Design,” explores the connections between this philosophy and art. And because Arizona State University is a leader in the field of biomimicry, several faculty members and alumni are involved in the show, which also includes events to inspire community members.

The exhibit, which runs through Aug. 26 in the gallery, includes beautiful pieces that evoke the lovely but practical aspects of the natural world — butterfly wings, a snake’s spine, seeds that float through the air on fibers.

Biomimicry is a shift from “people-centered” design to “life-centered” design, according to Prasad BoradkarBoradkar, a professor of industrial design in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, also is director of InnovationSpace at ASU., co-director of the Biomimicry Center at ASU.

“Nature has been evolving for billions of years, and organisms have learned to adapt to their environment and cohabit with other organisms in their ecosystems,” said Boradkar, who is currently working on a project with Google in Mountainview, California.

“What humans have done from a design perspective and manufacturing and business perspective is we have created a world in which we don’t think of longevity or environmental or social impact.”

Waste, for example.

“Waste is not a problem in nature. Leaves from a tree degrade quickly and become useful for other organisms,” he said. “How do we handle waste? We create landfills. We dump it in a location we can’t see it.”

Students in the Biomimicry Center work across disciplines to find solutions, Boradkar said.

“The impact of design and manufacturing of new products doesn’t affect only humans. It affects all species on the planet. So why don’t we learn from all species on the planet?” he said.

Many everyday products and technologies have been inspired by biomimicry, such as hook-and-loop closures, also known as VelcroThe Velcro Co. is one of the sponsors of the exhibit, along with the following ASU units: the Biomimicry Center, the LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and the Natural History Collection in the School of Life Sciences.. That was created in the 1960s when a scientist’s dog kept getting covered in burrs. Frustrated, the scientist looked at the seeds’ “grippers” under a microscope and was inspired to invent the fastening product.

The shape of moth wings have led to solar-power designs, and the echolocation abilities of sea mammals created the basis of radar. More recently, the slick swimsuits worn by the U.S. swim team in the 2008 Olympics were based on the composition of shark skin. They were later banned for giving an unfair advantage.

And an ASU-designed robot used a sea turtle's flippers as inspiration for a way to navigate different types of terrain.

The principles of nature have shaped not only what the Tempe exhibit’s artworks look like, but how they were created as well, according to Michelle Dock, gallery director.

“What we found with a lot of artists is that they’re inherently doing those sorts of things with this discipline that’s kind of new and also kind of old,” she said.

For example, artist Emily Longbrake incorporated the structure of a snake’s spine into her wood-and-string sculpture on display in the exhibit. When faced with the challenge of how to efficiently ship her artworks, she studied the ball-and-socket anatomy of a slithering snake, then incorporated ceramic balls into her design, which allows it to be flattened.

Damon McIntyre, a wood sculptor and instructor in the School of Art at ASU, has several pieces in the exhibit that he created out of some old pecan trees that were cut down on campus. The concept of biomimicry comes in with a table that has an asymmetric base.

“He’s emulating the root system of a tree to strengthen the legs,” Dock said.

Alexandra Bowers uses a wood-burning tool to etch the image of a feather onto a wooden box. Bowers, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at ASU, is one of three artists in residence at the "Biomimicry" exhibit at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 The program includes three artists in residence, photographer Nissa Kubly, sculptor Jose Benavides and wood-burning artist Alexandra Bowers, who are working with ASU faculty members in the sciences to broaden their understanding of how nature informs design. Benavides and Bowers both received degrees from ASU.

“This is an in-depth study for them to take their work in another direction,” Dock said of the collaboration.

The three are working in pop-up studios in the gallery through July 21.

Another part of the biomimicry exhibit is outreach. The center is holding several events for community members to experience the connection between art and nature. Several of the events will feature ASU faculty, including:

• Family Arts and Sciences workshops every Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. The July 15 session will feature faculty from the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU, and July 22 will be “Beyond the Collection Box” with ASU’s Natural History Collections.

• Satellite workshops at the Edna Vihel Center for the Arts in Tempe on June 24 and July 15 with artists and Kyra Galanis, who has a degree in biomimicry from ASU.

• Bee Hive Café for Teens from 4 to 7 p.m. June 16 and June 23 will feature free brainstorming sessions for art groups, science clubs and robotics teams, with free coffee. Boradkar will speak to the teens at 4:30 p.m. June 23.

• Dayna Baumeister, co-founder and co-director of the Biomimicry Institute at ASU, will give a free lecture at 7 p.m. Aug. 24.

Boradkar said he’s excited to discuss biomimicry with young people, and that outreach is an important part of the Biomimicry Center’s mission.

“We approach it by talking about the concept of ‘biophilia’ — ‘bio’ is life and ‘philia’ is affection,” he said.

“We all have an innate desire to be connected to nature.”

Click here for details and information on how to register for the satellite workshops.


Top photo: Artist Alexandra Bowers holds a dandelion seed, an inspiration for her work. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now