Media Controller Project: Cymatics

For our media controller, our group (Kevin Bleich, Natalie Be’er, Blythe Sheldon, and myself) created a device which allows a user, via 3 FRSs, to control an audio output.  This audio output is delivered via a 10″ speaker which serves as a vessel for a non-Newtonian fluid of the user’s choice.  As the user manipulates the audio output, ie changes the resulting sound waves, the sound is “visualized” in the non-Newtonian fluid.

Non-Newtonian fluids:
A fluid is said to be non-Newtonian if its viscosity changes with force.  A popular non-Newtonian fluid is a simple mixture of cornstarch and water.  If an external force is applied to this mixture, which is what happens when one’s hand reaches into a container of cornstarch and water, the atoms of the non-Newtonian fluid rearrange themselves and the mixture becomes dense (its viscosity increases), acting more like a solid than a liquid.  Just as one’s hand can apply an external force, so can a sound wave.  As the sound waves propagate through the non-Newtonian fluid, the mixture displays the properties of both a solid and a liquid and small, finger-like protrusions emerge.

The Controller:
The media (non-Newtonian fluid) controller consists of an Auduino (an Arduino microcontroller-based sound synthesizer) reading the analog signal of 3 force sensitive resistors, hooked up to an amp and a 10″ speaker, all housed in a wine box.  A black paper plate is placed upon the speaker and serves as the non-Newtonian fluid dance floor.

The Process and Inspiration:
In the brain-storming stages of our project, Kevin suggested cymatics (see below) and shared a link to a Make magazine blog entry which showed the manipulation of a corn starch mixture with sound.  Natalie, Blythe, and I were immediately captivated and so our explorations began.  Kevin created an Audiono (initially using the potentiometers described in the schematics) and found the perfect speaker (neither my tiny 8 Ohm speaker or my old college subwoofer packed enough punch or provided a suitable surface) and amp combo.  At this stage, we were ready to experiment with varying sound frequencies and substances.  The first substance tested was a gel-like children’s slime toy.

Cymatics trial #1 – Silly Sludge from Natalie Rachel on Vimeo.

As expected, the lower frequencies (less frequency = greater force) created larger structures in the gel-like substance. While the patterns formed in the gel were interesting, they were not the finger-like protrusions revealed in the Make magazine video. In order to create these structures, we switched to a cornstarch and water mixture.

Cymatics trial #3 – Corn Starch Monsters! from Natalie Rachel on Vimeo.

Cymatics is a term coined by physician and natural scientist Hans Jenny to describe the study of wave-propagation in matter.

****Photos and video of the media controller provided by the lovely and talented Natalie Be’er****

Stupid Pet Project: The Electron Altar

For my stupid pet project, I wanted to play off of the idea of “believing in electrons” and create a religious experience for the pious (atheist) scientist.  A ring comprised of a photoresistor is connected to an Arduino-controlled LED display which mimics the motion of an electron.  When the user’s hands are clasped in prayer in front of the alter, the LED display is revealed by illumination through a two-way mirror, as the sound of “angels singing” is played through the attached speaker.

Electron Motion:
In 2008, scientists captured, using extremely short laser light pulses, the motion of an electron on film:


The Electron Alter:
The electron alter consists of a photoresistor linked to an arduino, which controls the illumination of a display made of 5 bright blue LEDs and the looping of an audio track on an audio shield.  The lens from a children’s toy prism houses the center LED, while two outer levels (shells) made from metallic posterboard each contain two LEDs.  The LEDs are illuminated from the center out.  As the display is illuminated, the two way mirror (made by an old photo frame and two-way film adhesive from home depot) becomes transparent.  The components are housed in an old shoe-box, which I spray-painted chrome. 

The Electron Altar from Jennifer Shannon on Vimeo.

The Secret of ITP

Inspired by furry animals and frantic emails about misplaced chargers, this comic tells the story of what actually happens late night on the floor and inside the walls of ITP. Made with Lynn Burke.