'This is it': Physics alum CJ Woodford on Eclipse 2024 task force

September 18, 2023 by David Goldberg - A&S News

Arts & Science alum CJ Woodford is urging people to get a glimpse of Eclipse 2024, a total solar eclipse taking place on April 8, 2024, which will be visible from parts of Southern Ontario for the first time in decades.

Woodford, a member of the Ontario Eclipse Task Force, says the next total solar eclipse visible from these parts of Canada is so far in the future, that this will be “a once in a lifetime opportunity” for many people across the province.

“Unless you're an eclipse chaser and you've got the money to go on flights and zip all over the place seeing total solar eclipses — this is it,” says Woodford, who earned his PhD in physics from U of T in 2020.

For his PhD research, Woodford studied binary black holes, which are two black holes orbiting each other. He endeavoured to improve simulation methods that determine binary black holes’ effects on time, space and each other.

“Between networking opportunities, specialized training, the supervisors, the research projects, the courses and support from the admin staff, I would recommend anyone go to U of T for a grad program in any department,” says Woodford.

Woodford plays a key role in Eclipse 2024 planning, helping municipalities and schools get ready to witness the awesome celestial event.

Over thousands of years, total solar eclipses have been described as one of the most intense natural phenomena ever experienced by humans, so if you can see it, you should.

Travel logistics are among the most pressing issues. Woodford and the task force expect thousands of tourists to flock to Kingston, Niagara, Hamilton, and other areas in Southern Ontario that will offer some of the best views in Canada.

“We are recommending that folks who want to travel to the path of totality, arrive a day before and leave the day after to ease traffic,” says Woodford.

Woodford is also the education coordinator with Discover the Universe, an online and bilingual astronomy training resource for teachers and educators across Canada partially hosted by U of T. His current focus is developing workshops that teach safe eclipse viewing practices.

Beginning in October, teachers can sign up for a Discover the Universe workshop designed by Woodford. After completing a workshop, educators can order free eclipse viewing glasses for their entire school.

Earlier this year, as part of Eclipse 2024 preparations, U of T announced a generous gift from the Trottier Family Foundation to help procure and distribute thousands of pairs of eclipse glasses to classrooms across Canada.

“We don’t want to distribute glasses to folks who aren’t properly trained on how to use them or check for defects,” says Woodford. “We really want to make sure students are safe.”

Additionally, the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics is partnering with the Toronto Public Library to hand out eclipse glasses throughout Canada’s largest city. Although not in the path of totality, people in the Greater Toronto Area should still get extraordinary views of a partial solar eclipse.

Woodford explains that the glasses will be even more important in Toronto and other cities sitting just outside the path of totality because people will be tempted to stare at the sun when it’s partially blocked, which could cause severe damage without protective glasses or a certified solar filter on a telescope.

Living in Loyalist Township just outside Kingston, Woodford says he’s going to enjoy Eclipse 2024 from the comfort of his backyard, inviting friends from Toronto and family from Newfoundland to watch the historic moment together.

It will be Woodford’s first total solar eclipse experience in person.

“Over thousands of years, total solar eclipses have been described as one of the most intense natural phenomena ever experienced by humans, so if you can see it, you should.”

Interested in creating transformative opportunities for youth to participate in Eclipse 2024? Contact Emily Wilson, Associate Director, Development at emily.wilson@utoronto.ca or 416-978-4177.