Human Sundial on Campus

Our school now has its very own human sundial. Todd Creighton, honors and regular chemistry and astronomy teacher, has set up the fully functional device, which started as an idea from Dr. John Shribbs, a former science teacher at our school.

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Fiona Gmeiner, Reporter

Our school now has its very own human sundial. Todd Creighton, honors and regular chemistry and astronomy teacher, has set up the fully functional device, which started as an idea from Dr. John Shribbs, a former science teacher at our school. Creighton outlined the sundial’s purpose, set up, and inspiration.

Common sundials use pointers (called gnomons) to cast shadows to tell the time. Human sundials do something similar, but they allow a person to become the gnomon, so long as they know the current date. Common sundials must be changed monthly to account for the sun’s changing altitude throughout the year. Human sundials have twelve spots so a person can stand on the spot that corresponds to the current date and tell the time with no alterations necessary. Additionally, human sundials have bricks on the ground that—when the person’s shadow hits—will tell them the time. These sundials tell time from as early as six am to as late as nine pm.

Shribbs brought up the idea for a human sundial at our school about seven years ago while the OLÉ area was being designed. He had a craftsman write time and month indicators on bricks so they could be placed in the ground. He planned on having astronomy students do the calculations needed to map out the sundial; however, the math stimulations the students were using were very complex and the students were unable to correctly calculate the math. Because of this, the idea for the human sundial was put on hold for many years until recently, when Shribbs asked Creighton if he could set it up again. Creighton agreed and went to work on the calculations, using a newer and better stimulation to map out the sundial.

He did the calculations; however, he found his results incorrect due to the inaccurate True North his phone compass was showing. There was no clear North Star that week for him to correct his calculations with (due to cloud coverage every night), so he used shadows to determine True North instead. After fixing his calculations, Creighton enlisted the help of his six year old grandson, Waylon, to measure and mark the correct placements of the month and time bricks. Shribbs then placed and leveled the bricks in the dirt, which took him 10-12 hours according to Creighton. Creighton expressed his gratitude for Shribbs’s work.

“I cannot even begin to describe how much time and effort Dr. Shribbs has given, not just to the sundial Project, but to the entire OLÉ. Even though he has been retired for a few years he still works on that area as much as anybody and his dedication to the school and the entire community have been phenomenal,” said Creighton.

Along with Shribbs, former culinary teacher Megan Donner and former social studies teacher Dinah Lee were involved in the design of the OLÉ at our school. The human sundial is in the OLÉ, and is now a permanent device in the area. Creighton’s astronomy class will be working with the sundial soon, as its relation to the sun connects it to astronomy. Though the class has not started working with the sundial yet, Mason Back, a senior at our school, shared his thoughts about astronomy and why he took the class.

“My favorite thing about astronomy has to be black holes and supernovas. The fact that they’re so massive and beautiful, yet we know extremely little about them is really intriguing to me. I’m also very interested in how attraction works, and why everything does what it does. I’ve always had an interest in astronomy and the fact that there was a class at Casa for it re-sparked that interest,” said Back.

The human sundial at our school will teach more than just astronomy students about how the sun’s rays change over time; information that is Creighton notes is important for everyone to understand. Creighton is working on having a plaque made to describe the sundial’s history, design, and construction, as well as how to use it so it can be enjoyed by students, staff, and visitors for years to come.