KOKOMO, Ind. — A Kokomo doctor hopes to inspire future study in astronomy by creating a sundial, and donating it to Indiana University Kokomo.
Dr. Doug Eglen, who enjoys blacksmithing on his small Kokomo farm, built the equatorial sundial. On Tuesday (July 12), he installed it on the lawn east of the Observatory on campus, carefully adjusting it to be accurate within two minutes.
The sundial is a technology dating back to ancient Egypt and one that reminds Eglen, M.D. ’73, that there is much left to discover in the universe.
“By this gift, I would like to engender a sense of awe in our universe and promote further study on how to learn about it,” he said. “I hope the students look at it not just as an old, antiquated thing that gathers dust. It’s an idea to challenge them about the stars, the universe, our place in the universe, and progress.”
Building the sundial combined his love of blacksmithing and science.
“I wanted to make something artsy, because most people think blacksmithing is farrier (horse) work,” he said. “The trade generally is dying because of modern methods and mechanization. There’s just not a need for it like there was in frontier America. The craft is tending now towards a more artistic expression than mechanical and practical.”
He gave the sundial to IU Kokomo, after meeting with Patrick Motl, associate professor of physics, and director of the campus Observatory. Motl called the sundial’s design “innovative and quite elegant.”
“This doesn’t look like what you may have seen in a garden, or think of as a sundial,” Motl said. “People really shoud pause for a moment and have a look at this beautiful piece.”
Motl noted the sundial is not just beautiful — it demonstrates two of the first concepts taught in introductory astronomy, which are the daily motion of the skies as the earth spins on its axis, and the annual motion as the earth orbits around the sun.
It will not show the same time as on a phone or watch, because of a difference termed “the equation of time.” It takes into consideration that the earth’s rotation axis is tilted compared to the plane of its orbit around the sun, and that the orbit around the sun is not a perfect circle, so its motion is not constant throughout the year.
“The new sundial can be used to both understand and demonstrate these effects for students, and with a little prodding, everyone can be reminded of the way our planet’s motions dictate time for us,” Motl said. “Dr. Eglen’s sundial is a nice device to illustrate and connect these motions.”