How do you honor a neighbor who is a renowned scientist credited with discovering theories on solar wind? Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s fine arts program took on the task Saturday, May 12, in a spectacular presentation of visual, sound and fine art by more than 500 students to pay tribute to astrophysicist Dr. Eugene Parker.
How do you honor a neighbor who is a renowned scientist credited with discovering theories on solar wind?
Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s fine arts program took on the task Saturday, May 12, in a spectacular presentation of visual, sound and fine art by more than 500 students to pay tribute to astrophysicist Dr. Eugene Parker, who for many years lived in Homewood and took the train to his teaching job at the University of Chicago. He lived in Flossmoor the past 10 years.
H-F alumnus Jesse Collins, now with the NASA Langley Research Center, served as the master of ceremonies for “Solar Wind Celebration.” He explained that Parker’s “theories on supersonic solar wind and the Parker spiral have elevated the understanding of our solar system and the electro-magnetic relationship to our star and to us on earth.”
Other scientists believed solar emission particles were being shot from the sun, but Parker’s theory, presented in 1957, was that the particles were actually a flow of gas that is subject to the simple laws of hydrodynamics. He named it solar wind. His mathematical work on the topic proving his theory was verified in 1962 with data collected by the Mariner II space probe to Venus.
The backdrop of the Mall Auditorium was designed to resemble the night sky, complete with twinkling lights. Two side panels at the stage displayed NASA film and slides of Earth and the heavens as student musicians performed pieces that invoked the universe, including “Lullaby to the Moon” performed by the orchestra, “Stars” performed by the choirs and “Firefly” performed by a percussion ensemble.
For several pieces, choir members wrapped themselves around the audience making a U-shape from one side of the stage to the other and along the back area. Director Michael Rugen directed from the stage, the beautiful sound filling the auditorium. A percussion piece also was performed in one of the aisles.
Several pieces were written specifically for the event, including “Solis Ventus” by Fred Hanzelin of Homewood and performed by a double choir and orchestra; “Every Sunlit Minutuae” by H-F faculty member Jonathan Jackson and performed by a percussion quartet; and “Solar Winds for Concert Band” written by Flossmoor District 161 music teacher Heather Hoefle and performed by the combined H-F bands.
Senior visual art student Amya Jaimes presented Parker with a drawing of himself with the sun in the background, and students in the 3-D sculpture class were recognized for “Light Art,” their light reflection piece inspired by Parker. It was on temporary display outside the auditorium and will be permanently displayed in the North Building.
Jackie Wargo, chair of the Fine Arts Department, said plans for the program, “Solar Wind Celebration,” began in summer 2017 after NASA announced that its solar probe would be named for Parker. It was then that the community discovered the scientist lived in the H-F community. Every department of the Fine Arts Department was involved in the program in some way, she said.
Parker, who will be 92 on June 10, said afterward, “I’m very honored and somewhat embarrassed” by all the attention. He and his wife moved from their Flossmoor residence earlier this year because, he said, it got to be too much for them. They are living in Chicago in a senior retirement home.
The couple raised two children, daughter Dr. Joyce Parker, a 1973 graduate of H-F, went into the field of biochemistry, and son Eric Parker, a 1976 graduate, is a financial adviser.
Eric, who attended the “Solar Wind Celebration” program, said when he was young his dad “wasn’t pushy, he was very open. We always talked about science but it was never forced upon us.
“Dad is a very modest man. Up until a few decades ago, I didn’t realize how respected he was, and then in the past year he’s become a celebrity.”
Parker has received numerous honors throughout his career. Most recently, the American Physical Society presented him the Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research recognizing Parker’s “many fundamental contributions to space physics, plasma physics, solar physics and astrophysics for over 60 years.”