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IU Kokomo Cosmic-Con offers fun, eclipse-focused learning activities

Mar 1, 2024
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More images from the Cosmic-Con Eclipse Expo here

KOKOMO, Ind. — Only about 1 in 1,000 people will experience a total solar eclipse in their lifetime.

Friday, more than 1,300 middle and high school students from north central Indiana prepared to view the much-anticipated April 8 eclipse at Indiana University Kokomo’s Cosmic-Con Eclipse Expo.

The daylong workshop included background information on what to expect the day of the eclipse and how to view it safely. Students from Eastbrook, Eastern, Maple Crest, Taylor, Wabash, and Western schools also participated in hands-on learning stations led by IU Kokomo students, faculty, and staff. The stations focused on the eclipse through the lens of not only astronomy, but also biology, chemistry, art, literature, music, sociology, history, Spanish, cybersecurity, and more.

Patrick Motl, professor of physics and the campus’s eclipse expert, said the upcoming event will likely be the only one people in the Kokomo area will ever see, unless they travel far away. The last total solar eclipse in the area was in 1806, with the next one not anticipated until 2334.

“It really is super cool to see an eclipse in person,” he said. “Around the world, on average only 1 person in 1,000 has ever experienced totality. It’s not a common phenomenon and is something to look forward to. As educators, this is the kind of thing we can take the lead on and help our schools teach about a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and earth, completely blocking the face of the sun. The sky darkens as if it were dawn or dusk. Motl said everyone on the earth will experience the moon covering at least part of the sun, but only about a 100-mile-wide path – including parts of southern and central Indiana – will experience totality. Kokomo is on the far north edge of the path and will experience about 40 seconds of totality.

Students are excited to view the eclipse and to learn more about it, according to Maple Crest Middle School teacher Abby Isenburg.

“We are a STEM school, so we have been preparing our students, learning about the eclipse and incorporating it into what we are doing in science,” she said, adding that students especially enjoyed stations where they were able to make items like cosmic slime, paintings, drawings, and UV light bracelets.

“They showed me their paintings and enjoyed making things. They also enjoyed the college students interacting with them at the stations,” Isenburg said. “Having the faculty and staff take such an interest in them and their learning, and being available to answer their questions was very much appreciated by them.”

Eastern Middle School students Willow Hainlen and Maggie Rife especially enjoyed painting an eclipse and writing poems about it. Both said they didn’t know much about the eclipse before attending Cosmic-Con.

“I learned more about how and where I can see the eclipse, and how to look at it safely,” Rife said. Each student received a pair of eclipse glasses during the day.

Stephanie Medley-Rath, associate professor of sociology, was among faculty members who developed and led activity stations. While students drew aliens under her direction, they were also learning about sociology.

“The idea is that everything is socially constructed,” she said. “Our ideas about what aliens look like come from somewhere, like movies, television, or music. I like being able to introduce sociology to younger students who probably never heard of it before.”

Ricardo Esquivel, a computer science major from Noblesville, was among the IU Kokomo students who volunteered to host a station. He assisted Christian Chauret, dean of the School of Sciences, and Awny Alnusair, professor of informatics, in teaching students to build eclipse viewers from cereal boxes.

“I love science in general, so being able to share my knowledge and inspire younger generations is something I’m interested in,” he said. “It allows me to apply my knowledge to help them understand the physics behind the eclipse.”

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