One-of-a-Kind Foucault Pendulum Dedicated in Libermann Hall
The University became the official home to a one-of-a-kind Foucault pendulum after the device was dedicated in the lounge of Libermann Hall on March 11. Dr. Kathleen Glenister Roberts, director of the Honors College, led the ceremony accompanied by the pendulum's creator and alumnus Andrew Witchger, a former Honors Fellow.
The pendulum—one of only two Foucault pendulums in Pittsburgh—is a gift from Witchger to the University in commemoration of his time at Duquesne and as a member of the Honor College's first graduating class of Endowed Fellows.
In order to complete the project, Witchger spent more than two years researching and designing an imaginative new electromagnetic drive system. He modeled his scaled-down version after French physicist Jean-Bernard-Leon Foucault's original pendulum that was first displayed in 1851 to prove to the general public that the earth rotates. Unlike the original design, though, Witchger created a new, drive system located in the base of the pendulum instead of at the top like most other Foucault pendulums around the world.
Senior physics major Claire Saunders, who is also a member of the Honors College, assisted Witchger on the Foucault pendulum. "Countless hours went into making the pendulum relevant to Duquesne and the surrounding community," explained Saunders. "In the sciences, there is a constant struggle to effectively communicate with non-scientists. One of our goals in this project was to ensure that the pendulum could be used in outreach programs for both scientists and non-scientists alike."
While it appears that the pendulum is moving around the base, the viewer is in fact the one that is moving around the pendulum as the earth rotates. Witchger said it was the intersection of science, the humanities and Foucault's desire to educate everyone at all levels of society about this phenomenon that inspired him to build the pendulum at Duquesne.
"The Foucault pendulum is a historically significant display for science and the humanities that proves that the earth rotates. One of my motivations for constructing the pendulum in Liebermann Hall was to use my physics and engineering background to do something meaningful at Duquesne University," Witchger said. Roberts was a strong supporter of the installation of the pendulum from the moment that Witchger approached her with the idea nearly three and a half years ago.
"The Endowed Fellows program is very new," said Roberts. "I'm delighted that the projects have lasting impact. The fact that the pendulum is both a permanent installation and an ongoing experiment will, I hope, inspire more Honors Fellows to set ambitious goals for their work at Duquesne."