Retrotechtacular: Turn On the Magic of Colored Light

title cardChances are, you take color for granted. Whether or not you give it much thought, color is key to distinguishing your surroundings. It helps you identify fire, brown recluse spiders, and the right resistor for the job.

In the spotlight this week is a 1950s educational film called “This is Color“. It also happens to be a delightful time capsule of consumer packaging from the atomic age. This film was made by the Interchemical Corporation, an industrial research lab and manufacturer of printing inks. As the narrator explains, consistent replication of pigments is an essential part of mass production. In order to conjure a particular pigment in the first place, one must first understand the nature of color and the physical properties of visible light.

electromagnetic spectrumEach color that makes up the spectrum of visible rays has a particular wavelength. The five principal colors—red, yellow, green, blue, and violet—make possible thousands of shades and hues, but are only a small slice of the electromagnetic spectrum.

When light encounters a transparent material more dense than air, such as water or glass, it has to change direction and is bent by the surface. This is known as refraction. A straw placed in a glass of water will appear bent below the surface because the air and the water have different refractive indices. That is, the air and water will bend or refract different percentages of the light that permeates them. [Read more...]

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.

[Read more...]


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