Notre Dame Astronomy Workshop

by Christopher Graney (Jefferson Community & Technical College)

Workshop attendees on the steps of the Adler Planetarium, Chicago, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Matt Dowd.

Roughly sixty students and scholars from around the globe convened in northern Indiana this past July for the University of Notre Dame’s Thirteenth Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop, or NDXIII. NDXIII took place 5-6 July at Notre Dame, 7 July at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and 8-9 July again at Notre Dame. The theme of NDXIII was “Models and Mechanisms.” Presentations spanned cultures and ages.

A significant portion of NDXIII addressed work from ancient Greece, specifically the Antikythera Mechanism. Dr. Michael Edmunds, emeritus professor at Cardiff University, where he was head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, gave two presentations on this subject: one for a general audience, and one for the more scholarly audience attending NDXIII. Dr. Edmunds, who is chair of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, chair of the Astronomical Heritage Committee of the Royal Astronomical Society, and a former member of two UK Research Councils captivated both his general and scholarly audiences at Notre Dame with his discussions. At the Adler, he delighted scholar, student, and layperson alike by portraying Isaac Newton in a short one-man play, “Sir Isaac Remembers….” In this play, an aging “Sir Isaac” regaled his audience with tales of his life and the lives of certain acquaintances. These tales were variously full of reminiscing, grousing, and gloating, with the amount of each depending on the particulars of the tale.

The day at the Adler also included several hours of free time (a trip to the Adler has been a regular feature of these Notre Dame workshops for many years). This allowed those attending NDXIII to learn more about the Adler’s substantial collection of resources and artifacts related to the history of astronomy, to take in a planetarium show, or to explore the Adler’s many exhibits that treat the history of astronomy and of space exploration. If desired, an NDXIII attendee could also make a complete break and walk along the shore of Lake Michigan: the weather was good and attendees were treated to beautiful views of the Lake and of the Chicago skyline.

Those attending NDXIII were also treated to other excellent scholarly presentations. A complete list of titles and abstracts is available at Presenters hailed from several countries in Europe and in the Americas. Most of these presentations were followed by substantial rounds of questions and discussion, because both those chairing the presentations and the presenters themselves stuck to the allotted times. The Biennial History of Astronomy Workshops always feature busy days—between presentations, food, opportunities for socialization, and other activities (including some observing through the telescope at the University of Notre Dame’s observatory), attendees are kept busy from morning to well after the sun sets. Thus students and scholars leaving NDXIII on the afternoon of 9 July went away having been exposed to many new ideas and much collegiality.

Planning has begun for the University of Notre Dame Fourteenth Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop, or NDXIV, taking place 19-23 June 2019. Whether you are student or scholar or simply interested in astronomy, mark it on your calendar.