Shanil Virani is Director of the state-of-the-art, hybrid John C. Wells Planetarium and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at James Madison University. He did his graduate work at Yale University where he studied supermassive black holes lurking at the centers of galaxies in the nearby and distant Universe. Prior to Yale, Shanil spent 5+ years at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as part of the Science Team of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA's flagship space-based X-ray mission. He was awarded the 2009 Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Award medal by the American Astronomical Society for exemplary research as a graduate student. In 2013, he was appointed a Solar System Ambassador by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Solar System Ambassadors communicate the excitement of JPL's space exploration missions and information about recent discoveries to people in their local communities. He has authored or co-authored over 100 publications in scientific journals.
Shanil also hosts #OurIslandUniverse, a weekly look at all things space and how what goes on ``up there'' affects our life ``down here''. The central theme is to promote the public understanding of science, our exploration of the natural world, and how modern science is really a continuation of our species natural desire to understand the cosmos and our perspective within it. #OurIslandUniverse is a co-production between Shanil Virani and WMRA, the Shenandoah Valley's NPR station.
Shanil is a passionate educator and communicator of science. To invite him to come speak to your community group or organization, please use the contact form to reach him.
The John C. Wells Planetarium at James Madison University is a $2 million, state-of-the-art hybrid facility, one of only a few of its kind in the world. It boasts both an Evans & Sutherland Digistar 5, a ultra-high resolution digital projection system, and a Goto Chronos opto-mechanical star projector that provides visitors with a superior and realistic night sky.
Please visit the John C. Wells Planetarium website to learn more about its free public shows every Saturday, our summer Space Explorer camps for rising 2nd to 10th grade students, and our public science talks. After visiting the planetarium, continue the conversation with us via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Honors & Awards
Shanil is a confident public speaker who has given engaging science presentations to diverse community groups (public schools, church groups, astronomy organizations etc.), large and small. As a NASA Solar System Ambassador, he frequently visits schools in the Shenandoah Valley to share and communicate the excitement of space exploration and why it matters.
If you would like to request Shanil for a talk please use the contact page.
Physics is not simply a collection of facts and formulas although our students want to see it that way. Science is a mode of thought that allows us to critically engage our world and attempt to understand why things work the way they do. Shanil wants his students, motivated by curiosity and creativity, to see science at work in their everyday lives and to have the ability and confidence to know that they, too, can understand how the Universe works.
Shanil is an experienced instructor who has taught a wide diversity of classes; from Astronomy and Physics, to Mathematics and Science Education. He has organized, prepared and led courses from 10--100 participants. He has taught students (pre-K to 16) with a broad range in background, preparation and learning abilities. He has consistently earned excellent teaching evaluations from students.
Starry Nights is a week-long series of events designed to raise awareness about light pollution and the steps we can take to end it in our community. Light pollution — the overuse and misuse of artificial light at night — wastes money, wastes energy, endangers our physical, mental, and spiritual health, takes a tremendous environmental toll, and erases the stars from our skies. Worst of all, we have bought into the idea that more light makes us safe. Smarter use of light makes us safe, saves cities/universities/homeowners money, is better for our health and our environment. We can have responsible lighting that ensures our safety and security without polluting our nights. Please join us in celebrating the night and learning how we can implement solutions right here, right now!
Starry Nights, launched in 2014, was created by Dr. Paul Bogard, acclaimed author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, and Shanil Virani.
Shanil has an extensive publication record. Scholarly publications include research related to astrophysical phenomena, science education, and spacecraft operations.
You can find a link to his complete bibliography online at ADS (sorted by citation counts).
Our Island Universe
This is a weekly, 90-second look at all things space -- how what goes on ``up there'' affects our life ``down here''. The central theme is to promote the public understanding of science, our exploration of the natural world, and how modern science is really a continuation of our species natural desire to understand the cosmos and our perspective within it. Topics cover how our Ancestors viewed the night sky to new discoveries in astrophysics.
Subscribe to the series via iTunes.