Telling Time with Precision
(By Permission - Bill Gottesman)

The Andalusia Star News reports that the Lurleen B. Wallace (LBW) Community College in Andalusia, Alabama, has a new timepiece that President Herb Riedel says, “… is a device used for practical purposes to keep time, but they also take on a symbolic meeting. For a college campus, I thought it would be very appropriate because it combines science and art.”

Indeed, the sundial is a large helical sundial, a modern “Renaissance” sundial designed by Bill Gottesman of Precision Sundials in Vermont. When the dial is adjusted for the day of the year it reflects a beam of light from mirrors sitting on the inclined gnomon back onto a helical band inscribed with hour and minute marks.  The dial is a precision instrument, telling civil time to an accuracy of less than one minute. While most sundials tell solar time marking noon as the moment the sun passes the meridian, the Renaissance helical dial is adjusted daily to show true clock time.  Several years ago at a North American Sundial Society conference where the helical dial was displayed, observers were able to tell time to 10 seconds.  This is rather remarkable since the sun's diameter (measured in time passage) is about two minutes and therefore requires the concave mirrors to reflect a converging beam that sharpen the sun's image, a sundial technique covered by US Patent 6,301,793.

President Riedel is proud to have this timepiece at LBW Community College saying, “It’s been my dream for many years to acquire this particular sundial, and it’s only been here in Andalusia that I was able to get one for LBW… I hope it will generate some thinking and learning, but I also hope that it will inspire people to think about who we are as humans in relation to the world, and that there are things greater than ourselves.”

The dial is made for the location of the College at 31o 19’ 19” North latitude, 86o 27’ 4” West longitude.  Other Renaissance sundials dot the academic landscape including the University of Maryland, Rockville campus in Maryland, University of Houston at Clear Lake, Texas, and Louisiana State University, Louisiana.