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About Us: Seminars

February 17 - A Celebration of Benjamin Banneker, the first African-American Scientist

Professor Larry Molnar, Physics and Astronomy and Professor Eric Washington, History

Benjamin Banneker’s life (1731-1806) took an interesting turn when he was inspired by the “sidewalk astronomy” of a neighbor to take up amateur astronomy at the age of 57. Within a few years time, he had the opportunity to work with the most precise scientific instrument made in America, to participate in the surveying of the nation’s new capital city, to exchange letters on human rights with Thomas Jefferson, and to write a series of almanacs that were among the best-selling books of their time and place.  This presentation will illustrate this exciting moment in history with a look at the math, physics, and astronomy Banneker used, and will discuss the impact of his work on the abolitionist movement in America and abroad.  Finally, we will celebrate the life of Benjamin Banneker with the naming of Asteroid (155083) Banneker, one of a number of asteroids recently discovered by the Calvin College Observatory.

There will be refreshments preceding the presentation, and free observatory tours following.

Sponsors: Calvin College Departments of Physics and Astronomy; History; Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies; and African and African Diaspora Studies; Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomy Association; Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium of the Grand Rapids Public Museum


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Benjamin Banneker, first African-American scientist

Read more about the Benjamin Banneker asteroid.