Bending the Light


Ruled Hyperboloid CC Prof. William McCallum
Ruled Hyperboloid CC Prof. William McCallum

Everyone knows you can’t visibly bend light over short distances in free air. Or can you? [Jack Pearse] has figured out a way to do it though, or at least make it appear that way. He does it by combining a trick of math and a trick of the eye. The secret is the hyperboloid, a geometric construct described by a quadratic equation. [Jack’s] creation is more specifically a hyperboloid in one sheet. This type of structure allows straight lines to create a an overall curved surface.  Hyperboloids have been used by architects and in construction for years, often in tall structures like water towers.

If a bunch of straight steel beams can form a curved shape, lasers should be able to pull off the same effect. By employing persistence of vision, [Jack] was able to create his hyperboloid with only 10 small lasers. The lasers are mounted on the rim of a bicycle wheel and carefully aimed. The wheel is spun up with using an electric bicycle motor. [Jack] kept things safe by building a centrifugal switch. The switch powers up all the lasers in when the tire is spinning. This ensures no one can be hit by a static beam.

Once the wheel is spinning, all you need is a bit of smoke or haze in the room. The spinning lasers combine to form the hyperboloid shape. You can see the project in action in the video after the break.