To 400-790 THz and Beyond

by Michael Mullaney on April 29, 2010

Research and innovation involving light touches nearly every academic nook and cranny at Rensselaer, from Shawn Lin’s darkest material known to man (physics) and Christian Wetzel’s green LEDs (physics), to Larry Kagan’s beautiful steel and shadow sculptures (art), and Barb Cutler’s daylighting simulations (computer science), or a team of students using solar power to help kickstart a local dairy industry in rural Peru (engineering, STS).

Where the Smart Lighting Research Center is focused on optimizing, innovating, and transcending the science and technology that drives LEDs and solid state lighting, the Rensselaer Lighting Research Center is concerned with better understanding how we can use and innovate new lighting devices to create a more positive on society and the environment. Needless to say, both centers are populated with stellar students, researchers, and faculty.

Last week, graduate students from the Lighting Research Center (LRC) Lighting Workshop course showed off a unique class project: An interactive, immersive 3-D light-art exhibit that showcases the beauty, emotion, and science of light. Rather than building individual light-art exhibits, the students joined forces (not unlike Voltron) to create one massive installation. They called it Windows LT: Light, Materials and Dynamic Perception.

From blips and bleeps to spotlights and shadows, it was a visual feast. The LRC’s Lighting Workshop course is a research and design class integrating technology, design, policy, and communication.  As part of the course, the students do research examining the use of light as a medium. This light-art show is the way they chose to express their message about the medium, using the medium itself.

When you first walked in, there was a low-wavelength sodium light shedding its yellowish glow on several posters. The posters, at first glance, looked blank. Hanging by strings next to each poster was a plain-old flashlight. When you shined the flashlight onto the poster, writing appeared. The message: some light is so specific that even ordinary objects – like writing – aren’t illuminated in its light.

In a second room, the students had built a semi-circular display case with five “windows,” each of which housed a specific effect. One effect was a sheet of honeycombed plastic, lit from behind by a fixture holding about 25 separate bulbs. The light hits the honeycomb in such a way that only one segment of each honeycomb reflects the light, creating small colored halos of light surrounding each bulb. Sadly, the effect is slightly lost in photos:

This project is an excellent example of the interdisciplinary approach that is such an important part of nearly every degree program at Rensselaer.  Check out a few more photos: