3D Bubble Display


[Craig Shultz], a mechatronics grad student at Northwestern University, sent us a video of his group’s project from last winter: a 3D bubble display. We’ve seen some pretty impressive and innovative bubble displays around here—most recently the 60-tube RGB LED build—but [Craig's] is the first we’ve seen that adds some depth to the project.

For the most part, its construction is what you’d expect: an acrylic case enclosing the 4×4 arrangement of tubes, 16 valves 16 individually controlled solenoids, and some small air pumps; all driven by a PIC microcontroller. In the video, however, you’ll have to strain your eyes if you want to see the tubes, which is a clever design choice on [Craig's] part to showcase the display’s depth. Each of the bubbles was visually separated by pairing glycerin with a tubing material that had a similar index of refraction, Pyrex. As a result, the tubes blend seamlessly into the fluid. Check out the video after the break.


  1. Squirrel says:

    Dat YouTube video stabilization

  2. Vonskippy says:

    What am I missing? All I saw was bubbles floating to the top. No display, no pattern, just big globby bubbles.

    • rexxar says:

      I’m sure we’d see some pretty cool patterns if the dude could hold his camera still for more than a few seconds. I think I saw a couple of spiral patterns, and some 3D crosses, but it’s hard to tell when the angle constantly changes.

      • Jon S. says:

        I had a hard time discerning the meaning/purpose of this project. I was hoping for actual images like a ghostly face in bubbles, but the best I could perceive was something like a helix? Cool idea though of using higher viscosity fluids to allow for more persistent patters of the bubbles!

  3. George Johnson says:

    This could be really cool I think if they did it like inkjet printer cartridges and had small heating elements at the bottom. Shoot a high current pulse in there, create a small bubble. You could probably get down to 1/8th inch spacing or so.

  4. Just a thought, what about a cheap tintable window made out of pyrex with small channels filled with glycogen.
    to tint, purge the glycogen and fill with a dark liquid.
    is this too ambitious?

    • Luke says:

      Glycogen is starch. I think you mean glycerin.

      I don’t understand why you’d want to accomplish window tinting with fluids. It’d be bulky, prone to leaks and mechanical failures, and due to the its inevitable thickness, it’s be less efficient at letting light in.

      And why channels? If your only goal is tinting, why not have one large tank-like chamber?

      And why keep it filled with glycerin? It serves no useful purpose in this case. Simply leaving an air gap would be sufficient, and would likely make such a window more energy efficient.

  5. Craig Shultz says:

    Sorry for the potato camera all! This is the only video I managed to snap of it off my camera. Unfortunately the project was scrapped after the class.

    • I think you could have created a more effective bubble display if you doubled the number of solenoid air injectors and used a congruent bubble injection from ABOVE paired to each bubble injection from below. I’m thinking that would prevent the existing bubbles from ‘jumping’ when new bubbles are injected below them. Pretty cool; did you ever draw anything of meaning on it?

      • Craig Shultz says:

        Interesting idea. The tubes are actually open on the top and bottom to allow the glycerin to even out, so I’m not exactly sure how it would work.

        As for drawing other stuff, the course was short, so most of it was just getting the thing prototyped, built, and tweaked so the bubbles are roughtly the same size. I think you could get some pretty fancy patterns out of it, but we just didn’t have time to implement them. I viewed it more as a sculpture than a informative data display.

  6. RichV says:

    Painful to watch as the “click-click-click” in the background was freaking annoying. The tubes do really blend in well.

  7. t-bone says:

    Video hasn’t loaded all night, so I satisfied my curiosity with the 60-tube project. I get it.

  8. MatsSvensson says:

    Hey cool!
    When I was growing up, if we wanted a 3D Bubble Display like that, we had to fart in the tub.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 97,511 other followers