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.

14 thoughts on “3D Bubble Display

    1. 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.

      1. 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!

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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?

      1. 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.

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