Physics Lamps & Lights

Rolling Ball Fountain

Find this and similar fountains here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Rolling Ball Fountain

Rolling Ball Fountain: this miniature kugel fountain features a glass sphere that sits on a socket of precisely similar shape, and is suspended on a very thin (less than half a mm) film of moving water which greatly reduces friction. The velocity of the water in the thin layer slows as it spreads out via a hole in the socket, and this hole is offset from the center so that the interaction with the water stream sets the ball spinning. A small pump provides the flow rate, and colorful LEDs illuminate the glass sphere to show off the rotation. Perhaps you’ve seen public art installations featuring giant granite spheres weighing tons and yet similarly suspended on a thin layer of flowing water. Physics principles involved here include viscosity and Reynold’s number, the Navier-Stokes equation, Bernoulli’s principle and the study of thin layer lubricants.

Aurora Laser Projector

This affordable Laser show device available here:
From Amazon: BUY NOW: Aurora Laser Show Projector

Aurora Laser Projector: red, green, and blue laser elements are refracted through a rotating optical element with lumpy surface features which create this amazing aurora/nebula effect. When light rays refract through a curved surface they concentrate into bright patches called caustics, often with cusp singularities (sharp points) and intricate threads of shadow. Swipe to see a cyan laser pointer interact with the caustic projection optical element removed from this device- as seen in a recent post. 


Infinity Mirror Light Bulb

Available as a light bulb with screw in base, or as a USB Lamp 
From eBay: BUY NOW Infinity Mirror Bulb
From Amazon: BUY NOW Infinity Mirror Lamps 

Get the minimal tabletop base here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Minimal Lamp Base 

Infinity Mirror Light Bulb: illusion of depth from multiple refections. This glass bulb is partially coated inside and out with a thin metal layer. The metal layer is made thinner in a pattern of small circles to produce iridescent colors through thin-film interference effects. When lit from within by white LEDs, multiple reflections on the curved contour create the firework like spray of light and color. So much physics going on in this inexpensive novelty bulb! 

Pearlescent Metallic Lava Lamp

Get this metallic lava version here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Metallic Lava Lamp

From explOratorium store: BUY NOW: Metallic Lava Lamp

See aslo: Magnetic Ferrofluid Lava Lamp

The Lava Lamp: with new pearlescent metallic “lava”- kinetic art with an amazing amount of physics on display: convective heat flow, Archimedes principle, surface tension (note how the smaller blobs form into spheres), and immiscible liquids to name just some of the science behind this famous device. In this loop one can see shock waves ripple through the blobs as they detach, and as they recombine at the bottom. Manufactured by Mathmos and invented in 1963 by Edward Walker of Dorset, England. 

Tricolor Plasma Globe with Glow Wand

Get a globe and glow wand here:

From Aurora Plasma Designs: BUY NOW: Globes and Glow Wands

Click here for other amazing: Glow Discharge Designs

Tricolor Plasma Globe and Glow Wand: an engineered mix of low pressure noble gasses exhibit three colors of glow discharge in the plasma filaments that rise upward due to heating. A separate glass wand has a different gas mixture and phosphor coated beads that glow when in contact with the globe. A small high frequency coil at center creates the high voltage potential between the center electrode and the metal coated glass globe. Current flow through the thin gas produces the colorful emission spectra from the gasses. 


Luminglass

These are fairly inexpensive and use two AA batteries. Great for a rave or a physics class! 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Plasma Disk 
From eBay: BUY NOW Plasma Disk 

Larger versions available here: 
From eBay: BUY NOW Luminglas Plasma Disk

Luminglass: with audio modulation. Tesla (high frequency) coil within a noble gas discharge tube just like a plasma globe- these lightning disks also have phosphor covered dielectric pellets that create most of the light when excited by current flow. The intro to Tool's Sober provides audio with sufficient dynamic range to demonstrate the modulation effect.

Lithophane 3D Printed Moon

Get this beautiful night light here:

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Lithophane Moom Lamp

Lithophane 3D Print Moon: a night light lamp with a strikingly detailed image of the lunar surface- but made only of white plastic. The lithophane technique goes back to the 1820s and produces gray tone images by shining light through a translucent substance, initially porcelain, or like this example, plastic. Regions where the plastic is thick absorb the light and appear dark gray, thinner regions look light gray. 3D printing allows a new method for producing this art form with amazing detail.

Magnetic Suspension Lamp

Available for under $100 US: 

From eBay: BUY NOW 
Magnetic Suspension Lamp 
(Helical filament versions found here)

From Amazon: BUY NOW 
Magnetic Suspension Lamp 

Magnetic Suspension Lamp: not only does this lamp defy gravity, the LEDs in the bulb are powered through wireless induction (no batteries needed). This kind of levitation uses a control system with an adjustable electromagnet in a feedback loop with Hall effect sensors which allows for fine tuning of the magnetic field to exactly balance the pull of gravity. If this lamp design is unplugged (or the power goes off) the bulb assembly does not fall, but instead snaps onto the upper armature via strong permanent magnets embedded within. Amazing physics demonstrated by clever engineering! 


In-Feed Google

Ferrofluid Interactive Lava Lamp

Available here:
From Etsy: BUY NOW Ferrofluid Lava Lamp

Ferrofluid Interactive Lava Lamp: special ferrofluid infused wax allows manipulation of the blobs of “lava” with a weak magnet, adding an interactive element to the already mesmerizing physics of convective heat flow, Archimedes principle, and immiscible liquids. Love the atomic rocket theme on this updated version of the 1960s classic physics toy. 

More here: Ferrofluid Interactive Sculptures

Electric Discharge Fractal

These amazing fractal scuptures available now in many styles each with LED base:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Lightning Fractal Sculpture 

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Lightning Fractal Sculpture

Electric Discharge Fractal: the delicate branching structure seen here is a Lichtenberg type fractal created by electron current flow. An interesting aspect of this piece is that the acrylic was filled with electrons in two separate regions, resulting in this two layer pattern when the acrylic was discharged to ground with a flash and bang. Electrons typically will not flow through an insulator such as acrylic, but a high velocity beam of them from a linear accelerator (an expensive and complex apparatus) allows the electrons to tunnel deep into the plastic and build up a very large charge slowly. Such a large charge can then create a high enough voltage to create a breakdown arc which is hot enough to leave the fractal pattern. This sculpture comes with an LED base which illuminates the fractal with morphing colors. 


Bright Mineral Fluorescence

Nice specimens can be found here:
From eBay: BUY NOW: Fluorescent Mineral Specimens

The floursecne can only be achived using short wave UV lamps whace can be expensive. Less expensive used and vintage devices are often found here:
From eBay: BUY NOW: Short Wave UV Lamps

Bright Mineral Fluorescence: under short wave ultraviolet light Willemite fluoresces bright green and Calcite (with trace percent Manganese activator) glows orange-pink in this spectacular specimen from the Sterling Hill zinc mine out of New Jersey. The brilliant colors of fluorescence seen here come from exposing the rock to short wave UV (less than 280nm) using a vintage Mineralight brand light. 

 

RGB Color Addition

These Light Blox are available in this nice kit from Laser Classroom, a science education supplier: 
From Laser Classroom: Light, Color and Shadow Kit 

Wikipedia has a fantastic introduction on the topic of RGB Color Theory 

RGB Color Addition: three LED light boxes demonstrate the additive nature of colored light. Mixing Red, Green, and Blue to create Yellow, Magenta, and Cyan. An object casts shadows showing the following mixings: R+G=Y, G+B=C, and R+B=M. Adding all three R+G+B produces White (a little pinkish here as the Red is a little bit bright for complete white balance). RGB color addition is the basis for all computer and TV displays- all the colors you are looking at right now on your screen are made from adding pixels of R G and B in different proportions and intensities!

Emission Spectra Gases on Radial Mount

I made the display holder and I got this set of gas tubes here (about $9 per tube): 
From eBay: BUY NOW: Gas Pure Element Samples

From engineDIY: BUY NOW: Mini Tesla Coil
For the price, this is the best one on the market- and beautiful to look at in copper- and it comes with three accessories for the top. Please be sure to employ all appropriate safety precautions when utilizing any electrical circuity!

The mount is made by driling holes in this acrylic tube: 4" Acrylic Tube

The breakdown voltages of the elements featured in this post are described by Paschen's Law: 
 
Here is a excellent article with an overview of the physics of glow discharge and its application in lighting and other technologies. 

Click this link to see the mini Tesla coil in action

Emission Spectra Gas Samples: pure samples of hydrogen, nitrogen and five noble gasses are subjected to the high frequency pulsed field of a miniature Tesla coil. Each gas has a characteristic breakdown voltage and emission spectrum- note that Nitrogen has the highest breakdown voltage and begins to glow after the presence of my hand temporarily lowers the resistance to current flow for that tube. The color of each gas is due to a mix of the colors emitted from electron energy transitions specific to each element- the basis of spectroscopy. Notice also that the purple color of the brush discharge at the top of the Tesla coil matches closely to the color of the nitrogen sample, which makes sense as air is 78% nitrogen. 


Tesla's Plasma Mug

This plasma mug was sold in the 1990s but can be found on eBay often:
From eBay: BUY NOW: Plasma Mug

An improved and beautiful version sold here:
From Etsy: BUY NOW: Plasma Mug

Tesla’s Plasma Mug: this double walled glass mug glows orange from the excitation spectrum of neon gas at low pressure. The base contains a high frequency transformer that generates high voltage electric fields (but at very low current) from 8 AA batteries- which excites the neon to glow, and also serves as a coaster. This crazy item was produced by Can You Imagine Toys in the 1990s- perhaps Tesla himself would have served a good beer in this mug! 

Plasma Globe

Plasma globes are now available in many sizes and levels of quality. Here is a source for reasonably priced quality globes: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Plasma Globe 

From Amazon: BUY NOW Plasma Globes 

Plasma Globe: low pressure noble gasses exhibit glow discharge from high voltage, creating plasma filaments that rise upward due to heating- shown here in slow motion. A small high frequency coil at center creates the high voltage potential between the center electrode and the metal coated glass globe. Current flow through the thin gas produces the colorful emission spectra from the gasses