A to-scale, 1-mile-long model of the solar system lines the West Woodruff Avenue sidewalk. Credit: Jackie Appel | For The Lantern

While most Ohio State students won’t have the chance to travel through space, a new collaboration with artists and scientists brought small-scale space exploration to campus.

A to-scale, 1-mile-long model of the solar system that is 4.5 billion times smaller than the actual system lines the West Woodruff Avenue sidewalk. Ohio State collaborated with scientists, artists, fabricators and accessibility advocates to complete the project that has even become part of some lesson plans, Wayne Schlingman, planetarium director and main coordinator of the project, said.

The permanent model consists of a 1-foot-diameter sun followed by the eight planets at their appropriate distances and sizes, including Pluto. On West campus, Pluto marks the outer edge of the model that begins outside the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Chemistry Building.

Schlingman said the creation of the model brought both scientific and artistic minds together. 

“It was really cool to be there with a scientific mindset talking about art and how the experience is changing using the scientific method to display an artistic form of science,” Schlingman said. “It’s not something you get to do with science every day.”

The concept started about four-and-a-half years ago when Schlingman met with donors Sandy and Andy Ross about Andy Ross’ idea to get some sort of scale solar system model for the university.

Initially, the plan was to purchase a model, but when Ohio State’s Committee of Arts and Memorials rejected the pre-made design, a call was sent out for proposals from artists across the country, Schlingman said. 

Eventually, Ivan Depeña won the contract for his colorful, transparent design, Schlingman said. 

Each planet consists of a pillar with the name of the solar system object, topped with multiple thin panes of colored glass, resembling the same color as the real planet.

The pillars also have etchings on two sides to make the experience of the model more interactive and accessible. A circle representing the sun is on one side, and an appropriately sized circle representing that pillar’s planet is on the other. The panes of glass between the etched pieces have varying sized holes that telescope from the size of the sun to the size of the planet.

Serena Cronin, a fourth-year in astronomy and astrophysics, said she thinks the model is an exciting blend of art and science, and she has noticed a lot of interest from passersby.

“The first week that [the planets] went in, people were walking by and going up to them and interacting with them. They thought it was really cool,” Cronin said. “I still see a lot of people walking by and paying attention.”

At least two professors in the astronomy department have already incorporated the model into their classes, Schlingman said. Although the project was installed at the end of September, there are plans to add plaques to the pillars both to increase educational content and make the planets more accessible for those with vision disabilities by the end of the year, according to a press release from the College of Arts and Sciences.

“They will have some braille on them so that you can read what kind of planet it is and what the planet name is, and then it will guide you to the QR code,” Schlingman said. “We want [the website from the QR code] to be designed around an unsighted experience so they can have a great experience, and anyone else can have a great experience as well.”

Schlingman said he hopes people are inspired by the model.

“Seeing them interact as a group, and that this is a thing that changed their normal daily path is super powerful,” Schlingman said.