Dr. John C. Wells joined the James Madison University (Madison College at the time) physics department in 1947 and started the planetarium three years later in the attic of Burruss Hall.
Dr. Wells was named chair of the physics department in 1955, a roll he filled until stepping down in 1974. He taught for five more years before retiring as a teacher in 1979.
Though he retired from the classroom, Dr. Wells continued to work as curator of the planetarium, which moved from Burruss Hall to its current location in Miller Hall in 1975. The planetarium was named for Dr. Wells in 1980.
Following its renovation, the planetarium was rededicated in September 2008 in honor of Dr. Wells, who died in 2005.
Dr. Wells was not only a pioneer in teaching astronomy, but in advancing teaching techniques. Among his innovations was using closed-circuit television.
"He was a real innovator and leader in terms of science education," JMU physics professor John Staib said in a Daily News-Record article about Dr. Wells. "He was very ambitious and very passionate about what he did."