Owen Gingerich

Posted October 9, 2013

Owen Gingerich on Charles Eames.


Owen Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. From 1992-1993, he chaired Harvard’s History of Science Department. He was a consultant to the Eames Office on their Copernicus exhibition for IBM.

Gingerich said, “Charles was probably the most creative person I have ever worked with.”

You can read the entire interview with Owen Gingerich, conducted by Alan MacFarlane, here.


“Bernard Cohen had become an historical consultant for IBM and he brought me in on that project; it involved working with the distinguished designer, Charles Eames. I went out to California fairly regularly to look at the exhibits he was making like a huge time wall of computer history. He then did a special exhibition on Copernicus for which I was the key person.

Charles was probably the most creative person I have ever worked with because he not only designed chairs; he had curiosity and a wide interest in all sorts of things. He made a film, Toy Trains, because he was a collector of toys. I went on a photographic expedition with him to Poland and Sweden in connection with the Copernicus exhibition, where I learnt a great deal about seeing things in detail, taking pictures of books at interesting angles and not just flat on. He invented the multi-screen projection show; he used this first for the US pavilion at the International Fair in Moscow and then developed it further. As a result, I started showing my slides always on two screens.

He was flying back from Poland on one trip and he realized that if he wanted to get to the nub of what Copernicus was doing he would want to show how the Ptolemaic geocentric system gave the same answers as the heliocentric system; the vectors are arranged in a different way but they point ultimately in the same direction. He figured out how to make a model of this with bicycle chains hidden in the background. Within two or three days of his return his shop had made this model which was rugged enough to run for six months in the exhibition. I presented the problem to my students over the years but none of them was ever ingenious enough to figure out how to do it, except on the computer.”

Learn more about Owen Gingerich here.