Week 2: Week of the Singing Beam

Share This:

Monday, June 10, 2013


Caleb Heath

ledsWhen last I left you hanging in suspense, we were set to venture forth and bring science to masses of children at the HoCo STEM Festival. Demos would be set up, experiments would be performed, diffraction glasses would be worn! A new day! A red day!

And orange, yellow, green, and so on. Diffraction glasses allow you to see spectra, like a wearable prism. If you aren’t, get yourself a pair (before the 4th of July if you can) and prepare to be amazed. Like many of our visitors on Sunday you may walk around, staring dazed and open-mouthed at the ceiling.

We had a little lightshow where the students could see the different spectra for red, blue, green, and white lights. Those lights decompose into many different colors, but lasers do not. A red laser is red, not mostly red with some orange and yellow. Look at it through diffraction glasses, and you see what looks like a copy of the laser dot, not a spectrum.

My favorite demonstration, however, was the laser sound transmitter. Take a laser pointer, gut the batteries, attach a few other components, and then plug in a music player. Voila, you have made a laser transmitter. Now you can send whatever you want through the air. We sent U2.

einsteinI knew you could do this already, but I didn’t know that the receiver could be as simple as it ended up being: a solar cell attached to a speaker. The music comes through quite clear, considering the hodgepodge of clamps, wires, and tape it travels through.

It was great fun dancing through the beam (eventually we had the laser set up across the balcony, more than a dozen feet away), and having children break it with their own hands. Many a time the music stopped, a hand moved, and a face brightened up in wonder.

How can this be?

Beautiful. That, more than anything, is the payoff for studying the sciences. Learn, and be happy. Teach, and be enraptured.

It was too bad Nicole wasn’t there to see the fruits of her labor, but she and I have another outreach next Tuesday at Tuckahoe Elementary School. Prototypes for the SOCK will be going through their first field test, among them an optical Theremin. Usually theremins are majestic instruments. Ours is a beast that screams when it’s dark and quiets down if you hit it with a laser. I think it will be a big hit.

bonesWe’ll also see about bringing the MaKey MaKey, which is an excellent little toy. It connects directly to a computer via USB and lets you map keyboard or mouse movements to an object. You can have a banana be your space bar, a slinky a down key. It works on anything conductive, including graphite lines on paper. During our experimentation, we found that we needed to complete the circuit with our bodies. This logically progressed to everyone holding hands in a circle while we played a virtual piano with my lunch.

Caleb Heath