LED Illusion Makes Colorful Water Drops Defy Gravity

The 60s and 70s were a great time for kitschy lighting accessories. Lava lamps, strobes, color organs, black light posters — we had it all. One particularly groovy device was an artificial rain display, where a small pump dripped mineral oil over vertical monofilament lines surrounding a small statue, with the whole thing lighted from above in dramatic fashion. If it sounds appalling, it was, and only got worse as the oil got gummy by accumulating dust and debris.

While this levitating water drops display looks somewhat similar, it has nothing to do with that greasy lamp of yore. [isaac879]’s “RGB time fountain” is actually a lot more sophisticated and pretty entrancing to watch. The time fountain idea is simple — drip water from a pump nozzle to a lower receptacle along a path that can be illuminated with flashing LEDs. Synchronizing the flashes to the PWM controlling pump speed can freeze the drops in place, or even make them appear to drip up. [isaac879] took the time fountain idea a step further by experimenting with RGB illumination, and he found that all sorts of neat effects are possible. The video below shows all the coolness, like alternating drops of different colors that look like falling — or rising — paint drops, and drops that merge together to form a new color. And behold, the mysterious antigravity cup that drips up and yet gets filled!

Allowances must be made for videos of projects that use strobes, of course. The effect of this time fountain and similar ones we’ve featured before is hard to capture, but this one still looks great to us.

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Blinking LEDs For A Timeless Fountain

We’ve seen a few of these builds before, but the build quality of [Mathieu]’s timeless fountain makes for an excellent display of mechanical skill showing off the wonder of blinking LEDs.

This timeless fountain is something we’ve seen before, and the idea is actually pretty simple: put some LEDs next to a dripping faucet, time the LEDs to the rate at which the droplets fall, and you get a stroboscopic effect that makes tiny droplets of water appear to hover in mid-air.

Like earlier builds, [Mathieu] is using UV LEDs and is coloring the water with fluorescein, a UV reactive dye. The LEDs are mounted on two towers, and at the top of the tower is a tiny, low power IR laser and photodiode. With the right code running on an ATxmega16A4, the lights blink in time with the falling water droplet, making it appear the drop is hovering in midair.

Blinking LEDs very, very quickly isn’t exactly hard. The biggest problem with this build was the mechanics. The frame of the machine was machined out of polycarbonate sheets and went together very easily. Getting a consistent drip from a faucet was a bit harder. It took about fifteen tries to get the design of the faucet nozzle right, but [Mathieu] eventually settled on a small output hole (about 0.5 mm) and a sharp nozzle angle of about 70 degrees.

[Mathieu] created a video of a few hovering balls of fluorescence. You can check that out below. It’s assuredly a lot cooler in real life without frame rate issues.

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