Supporting NOLS through Solar Time

Posted by: nols.blog on Mar 3, 2015

By Melissa Hemken, Foundation Relations Coordinator

The sun has been used to tell time for centuries. The earliest known sundials are the shadow clocks used in Egyptian and Babylonian astronomy in 1500 BC. Today the sun is rarely used to tell time, but doing so can be a way to connect with the rhythm of nature—especially when traveling in the wilderness.

How a sundial works

The Utah-based company, Heliosphere Designs, creates sundials that display time by reflecting seasonal patterns of light onto the translucent dial face of the solar timepiece. Inventor and entrepreneur, Joyce Popendorf, creates solar timepieces for use in the home and the backcountry.

Joyce supports NOLS through donating a portion of her business profits to NOLS through One Percent for the Planet, an alliance of businesses and non-profits committed to environmental stewardship.

NOLS’ most important work is the unique experience of deeply engaging participants with the natural world,” says Joyce, of Logan, Utah. “This work is very similar to the goals of Heliosphere: to connect individuals with a sense of place, to foster stewardship, and to encourage further exploration of our natural world.

“The solar timepiece is a hands-on instrument that engages the individual to not only experience solar time but also gain a sense of familiarity with the patterns of light. As an architect, one of my favorite quotes is by the architects Moore, Yudell, and Ruble: ‘We cannot hope to be stewards of the earth, if we are not intimately engaged in its cycles.’”

With connection comes a sense of place.


With a sense of place comes a shift in perspective.


With a shift in perspective comes new ideas.

solar-clock The Heliosphere solar timepiece

Using a sundial relies on a vast underlying science that is intricately linked to an exact location on Earth and the seasonal effects of our orbit around the sun. Experiencing the Heliosphere solar timepiece not only connects the user with their spot on the globe, but also engages users with their own exploration of the invisible forces that shape our natural world.

Heliosphere Designs will be releasing an instructional interactive solar timepiece application for portable use to engage users with their field kit designed to take the 4-inch transparent spherical solar timepiece, carabineer O ring, and compass into the field to enhance their exploration of time and navigation.

“NOLS’ outdoor learning experiences not only connect participants with the natural environment but also encourage further explorations,” Joyce says. “This provides a vital, engaging connection to experience our natural world, as does the sundial field kit. To me, it is these connections and individual ah-ha moments that foster stewardship of our environment.”

Joyce chooses to donate a percentage of her business’ profit to NOLS through One Percent for the Planet, as Heliosphere and the school share the goal to engage individuals in learning about our natural world, whether in our front yard or remote mountain ranges.