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Posts Tagged ‘optics’

If you happen to be in the jungle with nothing but paper, a ball lens, a button battery, an LED, a switch, 3 cents worth of copper tape, and a need to see if there is E. coli in the drinking water, you’re in luck! You can make your own microscope.

Writes Keith Hartnett at the Boston Globe, “In recent years there’s been a trend in international development work towards building low-cost versions of key tools for widespread dissemination—inexpensive computers that let Indonesian fisherman check the weather before they go out to sea, or clean-burning stoves that replace coal and improve air quality in family huts.

“Now a laboratory at Stanford University has introduced a microscope that’s made of paper, assembled using principles of origami, and costs less than $1 to manufacture. It’s called Foldscope. …

“Despite the simple construction, Foldscope is a capable tool of real science. Users can adjust the focus using paper tabs, and the engineering team, led by bioengineer Manu Prakash and funded in part by the Gates Foundation, explained in a paper [PDF] that Foldscope ‘can provide over 2,000X magnification with submicron resolution.’ ” More. Hat tip to MIT Technology Review.

I wonder if I could get a gig folding paper at John’s Optics for Hire. I just made an origami fortune-teller for John’s son on Saturday, after all.

 

 

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Joe Palca, at National Public Radio, recently had a nice report about astronomy and optics.

I thought of John and his OpticsForHire team.

“It used to be that if astronomers wanted to get rid of the blurring effects of the atmosphere,” says Palca, “they had to put their telescopes in space. But a technology called adaptive optics has changed all that.

“Adaptive optics systems use computers to analyze the light coming from a star, and then compensate for changes wrought by the atmosphere, using mirrors that can change their shapes up to 1,000 times per second. The result: To anyone on Earth peering through the telescope, the star looks like the single point of light it really is.

“The reason the atmosphere blurs light is that there are tiny changes in temperature as you go from the Earth’s surface up into space. The degree to which air bends light depends on the air’s temperature.

“With adaptive optics systems, telescopes on Earth can see nearly as clearly as those in space.” More at NPR.

Photo: Heidi B. Hammel and Imke de Pater
The near-infrared images of Uranus show the planet as seen without adaptive optics (left) and with the technology turned on (right).

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My mother took in renters, and the last guy who rented my brother’s old room was a serious tinkerer.

There was no space to move around among all the gadgets and spare parts, but he did manage to squeeze us in when we were around and show us a particularly cool invention.

It was a colorful display on a computer screen that responded to sound, loudness, and rhythm of music.

I was thinking about that guy as I read the story that James Sullivan wrote for the Boston Globe about Bill Sebastian, inventor of “a kind of optical synthesizer called the Outerspace Visual Communicator, or OVC.

“Designed to let the user ‘play’ with images as part of a musical composition, the original OVC was a custom-built keyboard featuring an array of sensors to be brushed with fingertips (‘like fingerpainting’). It created dynamic color changes in the lights on a structure overhead, such as a dome over a concert stage.

“Sebastian performed with the OVC in a few extended runs with Sun Ra and his big band, the Arkestra.”

Now Sebastian has built “a new visual synthesizer — this one in 3-D…

“For the past several months, two fellow engineers and computer programmers have been working …  on proprietary computer programs and prototypes of the new OVC, which, in place of the keyboard and buttons, is operated by hand controllers that look a bit like robotic arms fitted with valves (like those of a trumpet) and sliders (roughly analogous to the frets on a guitar). Sebastian envisions applications for the 3-D OVC ranging from planetariums to virtual reality headsets.” More.

Whatever happened to that guy at my mother’s house? What was his name again?

Photograph of Bill Sebastian, Visual Music Systems, by Dina Rudick, Globe staff

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Optics maven Gregg just tweeted this link from Wired‘s GeekMom blog.

In the 2010 entry, Judy Berna writes about discovering a clever artist/inventor called Rufus Butler while working in her local library.

“The whole thing started with a baby board book that joined our collection at the library. …

“When you move the book left to right, the picture actually moves. We took turns playing with it and more than one of us almost went into a trance by its hypnotic movements.  …

“Then [my family and I] found ourselves in an art studio over the weekend, somewhere in the back woods of Massachusetts. Taking up one full window was a display of these amazing ‘moving’ discs. Each was a different picture and each moved in the same way the pictures on the library board books moved. …

“Once I got home I looked up their website, Eye Think.  Eye Think’s founder, Rufus Butler, is an artist, filmmaker, and inventor. He was so fascinated with optical illusions that he began creating these new ways to trick the eye. …

“The spinning circles that caught my eye in the art store are called CiniSpinners and come in an impressive variety of pictures. When you click on the web page picture, a moving sample pops up. There’s a little girl skipping rope. And fingers playing a piano. …

“Many animals are represented too. A dragonfly hovers, a dolphin frolics in the water. An adorable penguin waddles to and fro. My nine year old and I had to click on every single one, just to see which one was the best.  (My personal favorite: swimming man, with splashing water and all.)

“(Fun geek fact: After contacting Mr. Butler and sharing my enthusiasm for his products, he admitted that he himself had been the model for the swimming man. His wife videotaped him doing a swimming stroke as he laid across a kitchen chair, then he added the splashing water when he refined the picture in the studio.)” More.

Photo: Eye Think Inc.

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A new $100 bill is in the works. For security, it will have half a million tiny lenses in a special strip, and the lenses will create a particular optical effect as you tip the bill this way and that.  Kind of like a hologram, is my understanding. There will be even more tiny lenses on the Liberty Bell and the numeral 100, and as you tip the bill, the one will turn into the other, thanks to the lenses.

This rather surprising information I learned from a speaker today — Doug Crane, vice president of the family company that has been making America’s currency and some other nations’ currencies since 1801. He makes paper only from cotton (80%) and linen (20%).

There are a lot of interesting old documents about the history of Crane & Co. — and how it overlapped with key events and players in American history — at this blog on WordPress.

More information is on the regular website of the company, which is based in Dalton, Massachusetts, and employs 850 people locally. Among them are the people who make print so tiny you could “print the Bible twice on a dime.” They also employ optical engineers who create the micro lenses and are responsible for Crane’s 80 patents.

Other employees work in Tumba, Sweden, ever since Sweden asked Crane to take over its currency making. At the Tumba site, Crane makes currencies for additional countries.

A paper-making enterprise requires a lot of energy, so Crane is working with numerous alternatives as it moves toward its goal of 100% sustainability. It has   already drastically cut its oil use in a partnership with a steam-producing landfill enterprise. Hydroelectric is proving trickier because there are so many jurisdictions on the Housatonic River to give permission to remove waterfalls.

Perhaps the river could become a Blueway and get everyone working together. (See yesterday’s post.)

Postcard from cranesbond.com

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I’m fascinated by the many ways the Internet has enabled broader support for worthy causes. I’ve blogged about Kickstarter, for example, “a funding platform for creative projects.” Through Kickstarter, friends and other well-wishers can help fund a documentary, an art installation, or a book publication within a designated time frame. Magic can happen, often with only small donations that add up.

Today OFH_John tweeted about something similar for schools, Donors Choose. Donors Choose calls itself “an online charity connecting you to classrooms in need.” You can search for projects in your local area, projects that have special meaning to you, and projects that might let your company offer special expertise.

John’s company has optical expertise and jumped on a need at a District of Columbia school, where an applied science project on light called for optical gear. Read about that here.

If you are seeking to help impoverished schools in particular, you may look for the “high poverty” rating at Donors Choose. School needs of all sorts are listed here.

Photograph: DonorsChoose.org

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Here is a business that is in the business of innovating to solve problems in poor countries.

The latest initiative at Design that Matters has been to find a low-cost way to treat babies in the developing world who have jaundice. This week the group tested Firefly, an easily transportable phototherapy bassinet specially designed for Vietnam. The doctors in Vietnam were ecstatic.

“Currently infants born with jaundice in Vietnam will first travel to a district hospital in their search for treatment, which are usually not equipped with the proper tools to treat any newborn health issues and are referred on to a provincial or national hospital. Due to this lack of equipment at the rural and district level, infants’ conditions worsen as they travel for multiple days, risking the development of permanent brain damage. …

“In response, Design that Matters (DtM), the East Meets West Foundation (EMW) and Vietnamese manufacturer MTTS have launched a collaboration to develop a new infant care device that will treat newborn jaundice during the critical first days of life.” Read more about Firefly here.

“Design that Matters (DtM), a 501c3 nonprofit based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, creates new products that allow social enterprises in developing countries to offer improved services and scale more quickly. DtM has built a collaborative design process through which hundreds of volunteers in academia and industry donate their skills and expertise to the creation of breakthrough products for communities in need. Our goal is to deliver a better quality of service, and a better quality of life, to millions of beneficiaries through products designed for our clients.”

John’s company, Optics for Hire played a role.

 

 

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This morning on my walk I noticed a sign about energy-saving LED (light-emitting diode) street lamps. The sign is hard to read here, but it says that the LED lighting was provided by the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park. It also says that “the City of Boston is testing different types of LED lighting systems around the town and wants to know what you think.” Tell the City here.

The main reason I’m interested is that John is in the optics business, and his team is always working on LED, 3-D, and other optical projects beyond my ken. (I blogged about his Eastern European optical engineers here and here. John and Gregg tweet at OFH_John and gfavalora.)

And while we’re on the subject of optics, check out an article about “bizarre optical phenomena, defying the laws of reflection and refraction. …

“Cambridge, Mass. – September 1, 2011 – Exploiting a novel technique called phase discontinuity, researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have induced light rays to behave in a way that defies the centuries-old laws of reflection and refraction.” They bend light. Kind of like a fun house mirror.

You can see what they are talking about here.

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Some years before Suzanne launched Luna & Stella, her brother started his own entrepreneurial business, Optics for Hire. John’s work has entailed regular trips to Ukraine and Belarus to meet with optical engineers.

In 2008, his dad decided to join him on a trip to Lviv, Ukraine (called Lvov when it was part of Poland). Here they are.

John is on the left, then the Good Soldier Švejk (Schweick), then my husband, then a Ukrainian engineer.

Do you know the Good Soldier Švejk? He is a character in a Czech antiwar novel written after WW I. The book reemerged as the thing to read around the time of the Vietnam War. The Wikipedia write-up says in part:

“It explores both the pointlessness and futility of conflict in general and of military discipline, specifically Austrian military discipline, in particular. Many of its characters, especially the Czechs, are participating in a conflict they do not understand on behalf of a country to which they have no loyalty.

“The character of Josef Švejk is a development of this theme. Through possibly feigned idiocy or incompetence he repeatedly manages to frustrate military authority and expose its stupidity in a form of passive resistance: the reader is left unclear, however, as to whether Švejk is genuinely incompetent, or acting quite deliberately with dumb insolence.”

I was delighted to see that Švejk is still appreciated in Lviv.

Meanwhile, whenever John goes to Lviv, I always ask him to hunt down the lost masterpiece of the Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, best known for The Street of Crocodiles. He is said to have given his greatest work to a Catholic friend for safekeeping just before being shot in the street by a Nazi officer. I have read a good bit about him, including the biography Regions of the Great Heresy, and I am really worried about the missing work, The Messiah. He was an amazing writer.

 This write-up on the Internet generally coincides with what I have read about Bruno Schulz, except for the emphasis on his Polishness. Nations fight over his legacy because that part of the world has shifted so often. Israel also thinks he is theirs and about 15 years ago undercover agents upset Ukraine mightily by absconding with a mural Schulz had painted and taking it to a museum in Israel. The web write-up also mentions the great Israeli writer David Grossman’s novel about Schulz,  See Under: LOVE, a difficult read.

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