Holograms, Impossible Objects, and Floating Furniture

An impossible shape, the Penrose triangle, in Gotschuchen, Austria, erected in 2008 by the "physics meeting" association as part of the project "Physics on Spielplatz" Used with a creative commons license. Click for source.

Impossible Objects

In one of my recent posts I mentioned that studies have shown that we start recognizing impossible objects when very young.  Fortunately, they continue to be fascinating, and have led to amazing art, interior design, and stories like DB Johnson’s Escher-inspired Palazzo Inverso.  (I’m still holding out for a closet that’s either Narnia or a TARDIS, but while they are working on making tractor beams a reality, pocket dimensions to increase the size of my apartment are not on next year’s Christmas list.)

…Though I might want to talk to this guy: Jerry Andrus’s Illusions.  The warping clouds are enough to give you a headache, but the bolt-through-the-impossible-nuts is pretty impressive.  Even after seeing it repeatedly my brain still gets tricked.

Check out other life-sized impossible sculptures like the one above from Austria here.  Almost all of them are the sort that require you to look at them from one particular perfect vantage point: if you’re feeling inspired, there are directions on creating your own impossible triangle sculpture at Cool Optical Illusions: Penrose Triangle.


If they’re working on tractor beams, surely holodecks aren’t far behind.  Eye Spy featured artist Betsy Connors is a holographer here in Boston, and likes to work with whole-room holographic installations, though her works currently showing at the Peabody Essex Museum are discrete elements instead of a single larger piece.  Her route to holographic creations includes lasers, a giant sand table, mirrors, film, and a multi-step developing process (see the PEM interview with her here).

If you’d like to try a similar effect without the heavy-duty equipment, William Beatty’s got detailed instructions and a lot of related links on creating what he calls a “Scratch” or “Abrasion” hologram.

Through the Looking Glass

Optical illusions are a great inspiration for unusual decoration.  These designers have gone beyond painting the roses red, however, to create chairs and couches that seem to (or maybe even will) float, exploding bureaus, room-lengthening curtains (aha!  there’s my pocket dimension after all!) and invisible tables.

Still here? After all those cool ideas?  Fine, have a book trailer for the aforementioned Palazzo Inverso, a very entertaining story you read front to back, and then upside down back to front.  And when you’re done with that, go read Mirror Mirror, which is a set of fairy tale poetry from two points of view, read down the page and then up it again.

Happy International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day, according to the calendar hanging in my office, was technically September 8th, but as I have been having inexplicable glitches attempting to access WordPress, I’m a little behind.  (But the Salem LitFest isn’t for another week, so I’m still in the running!)

Therefore, in the name of celebrating cool stuff, which today is reading (who am I kidding?  We celebrate reading all the time in my world), I bring you neat thoughts about literacy, and a handful of reading-related activities.

First of all, good news for those of us who have more books than shelves to put them on: Book owners have smarter kids from Salon.com

And next, hear about how educators at the Eric Carle Museum focus on ‘reading the pictures’ in their storytimes as much as reading the words, improving comprehension and engaging kids and adults in the art of illustration: Noggin video

Looking for good books to read?  Ask your local librarian or check out some useful lists on Reading Rockets, helpfully organized by theme.

Also, don’t forget to check out the awesome interdisciplinary lesson plans available at the Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge–many of them have literacy themes.  One of my favorites is the Adjective Monster, a ‘paper sculpture’ art and geometry project built around Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley.

Illustration from Wiesner's Flotsam

Inspired by the ‘reading pictures’ video?  Everyone loves a good wordless book, and David Wiesner has created several.  Try out this very cool classroom photography project featured in School Library Journal and inspired by Flotsam, with neat tie-ins to science and history.  Kudos to my Anonymous Tip-Master for pointing this one out! I love how crazy and beautiful his illustrations are, and part of a long tradition of fish-exaggerations.  In 1719, the first full-color illustrated book of fish was published, including several fish that were figments of the illustrator’s imagination!  (See The Fantasy Fish of Samuel Fallours for the scoop.)

For more science tie-ins, read Flotsam paired with Tracking Trash, a very cool book about ocean currents and the problem of the ocean as ‘plastic soup’ [National Geographic].  Sector 7 is also a personal favorite, and great for teaching story-boarding or introducing a unit on clouds.

And lest we think all literacy only has to do with kids old enough for words, a neat article about visual literacy that begins developing in infancy: Escher-Themed Nurseries?  Even 4 month olds can recognize impossible objects from Cognitive Daily.  (You thought I’d manage not to include a reference to Eye Spy in this post, didn’t you?  Tune in next time for more cool stuff to do with impossible objects and how to create your own scratch holograms!)

Prowling Jaguars, Funhouse Mirrors, and Magic Shows

June 19, 2010 was a beautiful day for the Eye Spy opening!  Though I sadly couldn’t take anywhere near as many photos as I would have liked (the perils of being programming specialist!), here are a few highlights from the day that I did capture:

Before the museum opens, chalk artist Mike Macaulay wins some new fans as he creates a ‘teaser’ image for his anamorphic drawing inside.

All day, his jungle grows out of the floor and into the Atrium…

And elsewhere in the Atrium, magician Mike Bent entertains the crowds as others make funny faces in the warped mirrors and draw their portraits reflected in spoons.

Though their presentations were too light-sensitive for photography, artists Rufus Butler Seder and ron labbe also had full-house crowds for their discussions of the magic of motion in art and 3D photography.  Check out the Eye Spy page (linked at the top of this post) to see a video of ron labbe in his studio, discussing how he got into the world of 3D imaging.

Hunting Reflective Surfaces: Eye Spy Opening Day Preparations

As some of you may have realized, my longer-than-usual break between posts has been occasioned by the looming approach of Saturday’s opening day for the Art & Nature Center’s new exhibition, Eye Spy, Playing with Perception.  This show features a variety of artists, techniques, and ways of thinking about how and why we see and perceive the world the way we do.  As this is a year-long show, I’m going to limit myself today to talking about some of the very cool pieces that use mirrors, and one of the activities I have planned for opening day.

One artist featured in Eye Spy whom I’ve mentioned before is Devorah Sperber, who does remarkable things with thread.  We have three of her works in Eye Spy, one of which is not only pixellated into thread spools and hung upside down, but is also an anamorphic distortion, meaning that it is warped to a very particular angle so that it can only be deciphered through looking at a half-spherical mirror.

Sperber's anamorphic Spock

Sperber's Spock 2 (anamorphic), 2007, *1,702 spools of thread. Not the anamorphic work we have in the show, but awesome in its own right. Click to see more of Sperber's "Mirror Universe" works.

Another artist who does remarkable things with mirrors is Daniel Rozin, whose pieces Self-Centered Mirror and Mirror Number 5 are featured in Eye Spy.  (You can see a shot of Self-Centered Mirror on the PEM Eye Spy exhibition page linked above.)

Therefore, one of the activities we’ve planned for Saturday involves sketching your own anamorphic portrait.  Not only will we have two funhouse mirrors to play with your reflection, but we also wanted smaller, cool ‘shiny’ stuff that you could hold and examine your reflection while sketching your warped self.  (No judgment in that adjective, merely a comment on the convex and concave!)

Photo credit to "Brendan Alexander's Perplexing Times." Click for link.

Here’s the question…where do you find shiny stuff that will give you those cool reflections, clearly enough that you have a prayer of sketching the result?  The secondary question is…how do you do that without spending oodles of money?

Having discovered to my dismay that not all spoons are anywhere near reflective enough, I embarked on a shiny-surface hunt, accompanied by one of the most creative people I know, who prefers to remain anonymous.  Our first stop was the local dollar store, which was not as helpful as I hoped–however, we did locate some reasonably shiny spoons, 4 for a dollar, a kid’s pair of mirrored sunglasses, and two cosmetic mirrors that had a normal side and a magnifying side.  Total output, about 8 bucks.  Not bad, but not anywhere near enough.

Next stop, thanks to my creative consultant, was the local hardware store.  Two women walking into a hardware store is a perfect opening for any number of well-meaning and only occasionally condescending offers of assistance from the folks who work there, and this trip was no exception.   Imagine, if you please, my utter delight in telling the clerk who offered his assistance that I was looking for ‘shiny stuff.’  He looked at me like I had three heads–and when I went on to explain what I needed it for, he continued to look at me like I had three heads, and had also hit him over the head with a 2×4.  (I love getting reactions like that.)  Meanwhile, while he was telling me that they were really more ‘focused on practical stuff’ and that he doubted I’d find anything, my creative consultant was peering around into the next aisle and beginning to call out all kinds of cool stuff she was finding.

Score one for the educators.

Final haul from the hardware store (after regretfully passing over some very cool and very expensive chromed faucets and other fascinating bits and pieces) included concave drawer handles, stovetop reflectors of a few different sizes, and a few lengths of chromed pipe, including one that is shaped like a U.  (I’m looking forward to handing that to some kid and saying ‘look, you’re on U-tube!’ tomorrow.)  So now I have a basket of stuff–come and sketch tomorrow!

…And if you’re not feeling up to that, check out our custom-made anamorphic puzzles, in which you can’t assemble the warped puzzle pieces and make sense of the image that results without using a cylindrical mirror.

One of the historical anamorphic sketches that was the inspiration for our Anamorphic Puzzlers!

Brighten Your Day

It’s been raining in New England, have you heard?  I blame Chac, the Maya god of rain, who is currently taking up residence in the Peabody Essex Museum… (Amusingly, so does The Salem News.)

So if you’ve got a case of the grays, here’s a collection of fun things to lighten up your day!

“Bright Ideas: Light Bulbs Stimulate Insights” — “New research finds exposure to a bare, illuminated light bulb — a universal symbol of bright ideas — is a catalyst to reaching insights. ” (Ah, but does it work with CFLs?)

Re-using Lightbulbs as Mini-Terrariums Surprisingly pretty! And a neat statement about going green.  (Definitely does not work with CFLs! Can you imagine a teeny tiny twisted terrarium?  You can?  Good.  Now say that back to me five times fast.)

24,000 LED's, but no glass slippers

Designer Duo Create Dress with 24,000 LED’s — “We used the smallest full-color LEDs, flat like paper, and measuring only 2 by 2 mm,” say designers Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz… “The circuits are extra-thin, flexible and hand-embroidered on a layer of silk in a way that gives it stretch so the LED fabric can move like normal fabric with lightness and fluidity.”

How-to’s and Lesson Plans on Light and Waves from the New Zealand Physics Teachers’ Resource Bank.  Lots of very cool stuff here, including a very small-scale demonstration of eye resolution and color mixing, which would be an interesting tie in to a discussion of Impressionism and pointillism, I think, as well as an explanation of how TV’s and monitors work.

lilac chaser illusion

Look steadily at the black center of the circle. What happens to the circle of dots? Blink a few times. What happens? Click the picture for an explanation.

20 Amazing Optical Illusions — The Lilac Chaser above is #13 on the list.

Icy Cool Science

I was going to post this tomorrow, but in honor of the enormous blanket of white stuff covering the East Coast from DC northwards, I’m posting early.

Boiling Water to Ice Crystals in a Flash

Boiling Water Flash Frozen

Boiling Water Flash Frozen

On a day when temperatures are below freezing (the colder the better!), get a mug or pot of boiling water and bring it outside.  Toss the water in the air (away from yourself and any innocent bystanders!)  and watch the water flash freeze into a cloud of ice crystals.  NB: If you do this at your school or museum, do not direct the water where ice will fall on walkways, parking lots, or visitors.

Why does this happen?

All things being equal, cold water freezes faster. It takes time for the energy contained in a hot object to be transferred to a cold object. However, the rate of heat transfer is proportional to the temperature difference between the two objects, so hot water will lose heat faster than cold water. In other words, if you have water at 90 degrees C and water at 10 degrees C and the freezer is at -10 degrees C, the hot water will lose heat five times faster than the cold water; however, the cold water will still win the race. As the hot water cools it’s rate of heat transfer will decrease, so it will never catch up to the cold water.

Some people claim that hot water freezes faster because a pot of boiling water can be thrown into the air on a cold winter day, and it freezes in mid air creating a shower of ice crystals. Whereas a pot of cold water thrown into the air comes down as large blobs of water. This happens because the hot water is so close to being steam, that the act of throwing it into the air causes it to break up into tiny droplets. (hot water is less viscous than cold water, listen to the sound it makes when you pour it in the sink) The small water droplets have a large surface area which allows for a great deal of evaporation, this removes heat quickly. And finally, the cooled droplets are so small, that they can be easily frozen by the winter air. All of this happens before the water hits the ground. Cold water is thicker and stickier, it doesn’t break up into such small pieces when thrown into the air, so it comes down in large blobs.

Joe Larsen, Ph.D. Chemistry, Rockwell Science Center, Los Angeles, CA

For video and further information, see http://blog.wired.com/geekdad/2009/02/boiling-water-.html

Plus an extra-cool kaleidescope snowflake generator, with thanks to Paul Orselli of Exhibitricks for the link!  I love the option to spin your crystals round not only in two, but in three dimensions.

Ideabox: CD’s and CD cases

photo credit to ChristopherA

Due to the upswing of digitally-downloaded music, mp3 players, et al. there are a lot fewer junk CD’s and spare CD cases lying around these days.  This is certainly good for the planet, but not so great for those of us who like making cool projects out of them.  Fortunately, computer programs still end up replaced, CD-R’s burn with skips in them and have to be redone, and random CD cases still turn up in the bottom of your desk drawer when you least expect them.

So…what are some fun and funky things to do with these fabulous plastic leftovers?

ideabox cds

CD’s themselves

It is, of course, completely possible to just Google ‘CD crafts’ and find some cute projects, especially for kids–there are a reasonable number of idea-starters at Kaboose, for instance.  However, all that sifting takes time, so here are a few others of my favorites so far.

For the seasonally appropriate: Making CD Christmas Ornaments

For the jewelry fan: Example of CDs turned into earrings

For people who like to play with fire: (no seriously, apparently they want you to use a candle to heat the CD in order to bend it!) How to Make a CD into a Cellphone Holster

For the purely silly: CD Air Hockey Rink

For the science-minded: CD’s are obviously cool for the way they split light into its component rainbow colors–this is called a diffraction grating.  For an explanation of diffraction grating, how it works, and CD’s in particular, click here.  For a really cool build-your-own-spectroscope project, click here.

CD Jewel Cases

For the nature fan: CD Jewel Case birdhouse/greenhouse

For the recyclables architect: Cubic Display Case on Instructables (there are a lot of other cool CD case projects on the same site, check the sidebar for a few examples!)

Still looking for more ideas? There’s another fun collection on HubPages, here.  My favorite idea there is definitely the suncatcher, but see what inspires you!

Stay tuned for the next Ideabox post: cool stuff to do with those CD-R and DVD-R spindles, thread spools, and more!

Another reason to love November

Is it just too long until National Poetry Month for you?  It certainly is for me–which is why it’s awesome that November is  Family Literacy Month.

The central idea behind Family Literacy Month is that parents and other adult role models are keystones to their children’s habits of, attitudes toward, and grasp of reading.  If you’re looking for some fun ways to incorporate literacy activities into your day, here are a few places to get started:

Credit to cx1uk

For ages 3-5: 31 Days of Reading (though personally I think older kids would enjoy some of these too!)

For all ages:
The Massachusetts Libraries’ page on Family Literacy Month, with a link to events occurring at local libraries and information on the Boston Children’s Museum event later this month.

The National Center for Family Literacy; they’ve got an interesting collection of research and resources for educators on working with parents and children.

Even more research and resources from the Massachusetts Family Literacy Consortium.

And because I cannot include links to all that dry information without some other fun places to start playing with words:

Wordle: creating pictures with words (ala the image above in this post)

Word Games by Merriam Webster Online

Read aloud the colors the words are written in, not the words themselves.

The Stroop Effect, at Neuroscience for Kids: trick your brain–how easy is it to read a color when the word says something else?