Are You Teaching Relevant Lighting?

Teaching is not just fundamental, it’s imperative to our industry.
If you get pissed off reading this, it’s meant for you.
What your anger means is that you’re guilty.
This can be fixed though, you CAN be an efficient modern lighting teaching instrument.  You just have to want it.

I spend a lot of time on the road, as is obvious from my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.  When I am on the road talking to people, I often ask them a few questions, especially the younger guys and gals — I just met a super cool girl named Victoria that has no collegiate schooling at all; she was working Merchandise on the road before making her inrow as a lighting intern.  I asked her these questions:

  1. “Where did you go to school/Who did you study with?”
  2. “Was there anything that you found you learned better on the job?”
  3. “If you had the option, what would you rather have learned in the school setting?”

Now obviously she didn’t go to college, so a few of those didn’t qualify for her.  But one thing that is a constant throb in my f*cking head is the fact that a lot of teachers I speak to, especially the tenured ones, have pretty much the same tired ass fundamental excuse for why their kids don’t know about things that are very relevant in today’s working industry:

“But college is about teaching the fundamentals, not showing them about technology.”


I'm a water surfing elephant, bitch

Of COURSE teaching lighting fundamentals is important.  OF COURSE learning how to draft by hand is important, I teach it that way too.  In order for a student to know what the task is like on a computer means showing them how to do it when their computer is dead as shit.  To that effect, also important is operating a two-to-five scene preset desk so that they understand just what a blessing it is to have access to write a stack playlist somewhere, maybe trigger OTHER playlists from that single stack.  All modern console companies allow for this, it’s your responsibility to learn it well enough to teach it back to your kids.

College isn’t cheap.  At all.  For anyone.  Your old out-of-date lectures aren’t going to cut it anymore, and it makes your institution look lazy.

If you were on quarters for example and had ten weeks per class for four years, your excuse still blows, but at least you have a somewhat terrible excuse for your tenure review committee.  If you’re on semesters and have lighting students for four years, it’s time to start servicing the industry today.  USITT wants you to do it, I want you to do it, PLASA wants you to do it, LDI offers classes SO you can do it and the rest of the people in the industry who have to deal with your mediocre teaching methods want you to do it too.

Tenure Review Committees, pay attention.  You need to start judging your people harder.  Shouldn’t tenure mean more than “hell, I put up with this shit for four years and kissed enough asses?”  This industry is so chock full of technical equipment and necessary know-how that you need to start being a bit more hard on your lighting design professors and their success rate at placing kids in gigs in the real world industry.  Having a BA or BFA student leave your place without having at least SOME know-how on how to set up a lighting network, or how to operate something newer than your Express 250 or Strand 520i, is imperative.

Since so many people in this business get their panties in an uproar whenever their shit is mentioned, understand this — those two desks just referenced are absolutely awesome desks, and frankly I would play on one if they were still spec’d in the industry on the kinds of shows your students are going to find themselves in, especially if they journey outside of community theatre.  As a matter of fact, I’ve probably forgotten more about those two desks than a lot of you will be able to teach your students, and this is a problem.

I can't be bothered to learn more, I HAVE my degree!

Let’s take a look at some of the professor excuses I get to these comments:

  • “I have a lot of University meetings I am required to attend.”
  • “I just got into the Union!  That helps my students.”
  • “I’m preparing for my Tenure Committee review.”
  • “My students had rehearsal last night so I didn’t want to push them that hard.”
  • “Half of these students have NO future in our industry.”  [REALLY?!]
  • “These are [actors/dancers/singers] who have no interest in what I’m teaching.”  [WTMF?!!!]

Well, GUESS WHAT!  That’s all more bullshit that you can save your kids from by applying yourself.  I used to teach three courses of dancers in an intro lighting course.  What came out of my mouth frequently is that “this is relevant information for those times when you’re in between companies or auditions, so you can make rent.  And, this is WAY more fun than waiting tables.”

Was I a perfect teacher?  Most definitely not, I tried to maintain my career while I was teaching.  That causes a lot of jealousy and anger among non-supportive colleagues.  But I gave a shit about giving my students relevant, useful, and pertinent information they at least could use while they started their first gigs out there.  Perhaps my colleagues didn’t like me, but most of the students I taught are working, in their chosen field.  Suck on that.


“Oh but why aren’t you teaching anymore, Jim?  Can’t you handle it?”
Nope.  I got outta Shawshank.  In most places, the pay sucks — the administration either A) could give a shit about your little ‘Thee-Ate-‘Er plays’, B) has no money ever allocated to the furthering of your craft, or C) has no plans to allocate any more money than the couple of thousand a year Lighting gets for “lamps and gel.”  Besides, playing nice with people who feel like it’s their god-given right to be crusty and shitty is not my idea of a nurturing environment for professors.  I can’t even IMAGINE what the High School market is like.  I feel that I can frankly more effectively spread information across a wider group of people doing what I do right now than I ever could as a professor.  As a matter of fact, just recently an acquaintance of mine lost her job because the Tenured Boys Club at her specific institution didn’t think she fit in, regardless of the fact that she was a great prof and had more info for the students in the crack of her ass than most of them had combined.  It’s a crying shame that happens every day across the world.

Here’s a good place to start upping your game in the lighting classroom — if you can learn about these things, you will help your students all place in jobs and graduate schools once they leave your stead.  Do you understand how important this is?  Give your students the ability to actually speak and understand today’s lighting language.  Here’s eleven places to start, with another several thousand available:

  1. Artnet, Streaming ACN, and delivering DMX over something other than your stock 5-pin DMX cable, or even worse, your 3-pin MIC cable that is fed into some shitty 3-pin to 5-pin adaptor at your “tech booth.”  These things are what is running larger format shows anymore, and frankly, most shows in general.  Artnet is not quite as good as sACN, but you’ll learn why when you apply yourself.  I know money’s tight.  Rent something to expose the students to the same old DMX, but sent and received in a new way.  It really does blow minds.
  2. Get yourself in front of the budget committees, Dean, Provost, and anyone else who will listen about some kind of “rental budget.”  Maybe VL3500 spots are out of your price range to buy, but don’t you understand the importance of students just getting to take them out of the case and plug them in?  Patch them?  Learn why you TILT first and never PAN first?  Allow them to PLAY so that when they’re in the real world with people expecting them to deliver, they make good choices because you gave them the ability to play first.
  3. I understand you already have an ETC Express 24/48 or an Express 250, or maybe even something as lovely as a Leprechon LP-612.  Why not rent in a Hog 4, MA2 lite, Avolites Tiger Touch 2, or something larger format so that your students can understand why in the real world we use more than one playback for a reason?  While we’re on that subject, familiarize yourself with things like what TRACKING is and how to use it…  what a PART CUE is…  How to use Spreadsheet on an ETC desk you may have in your theatre… what split timings are…  inhibitive submasters and why they’re useful…installing profiles for multi-channel fixtures…  ALL of that stuff is included in your stack desk, it’s all basic programming.  All this costs you is time, and if you don’t have time for your students, you don’t deserve to be anywhere near them.  Sorry, that’s our industrial reality.
  4. Have you any idea how many free resources there are out there to get you at least somewhat more intelligent for your students than you are now?!  How about Control Booth, The Light Network, ESTA, Jim On Light, ProLightingSpace, and USITT just to name a few?  What the hell are you waiting for?
  5. Electrical — teach your kids how to read a meter.  Teach them about continuity checks, they’re not always gonna have a GamChek at their disposal.  Teach them how to meter power coming from a distro, SAFELY, and show them how it is to not get dead when doing something like that.  Ever handed a young stagehand a meter and watch them struggle to even plug their leads in?  Terrifying.  Teach them which holes NOT TO STICK THE PROBES IN, too.  Holy shit.
  6. Pay Richard Cadena to come to your school.  Take your happy ass over to the chair of your department and ask him or her to ask HIS or HER boss to find the small amount of money to do just that.  When he leaves, your students will know more about electricity than you’ve ever imagined.
  7. Start studying for the ETCP test, the NCQLP test, and anything that will help you have more learned information in your LD bag of tricks.  You don’t have to actually take or pass the tests if you’re not feeling confident, but just studying those exam prep guides will show you just what you DON’T know.
  8. Get your kids involved with USITT, ESTA, PLASA, and anything else that exposes them to people like me, like Richard Cadena, like Brad White, like Richard Belliveau, Berenice and Albert Chauvet, Ford Sellers, Matthias Hinricks, Rick Hutton, Eric Loader, and working LDs like Patrick Dierson, Sooner Routhier, Josh Schultz, BudRock, Benny Kirkham, Peter Morse, Anne McMills, Tharon Musser, Kevin Adams, Natasha Katz, Don Holder, Neil Austin, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhower, Chris Ackerlind, and the other thousand and a half names that didn’t just pop in my head.  Get your kids around working people like Laura Frank, Sean Cagney, Loren Barton…  people who know what the f*ck they’re doing so that your students have positive role models.
  9. Have your students study modern lighting history.  Learning about 360Q’s and Strand Century 6X12’s is no longer applicable in today’s society of lighting, because they’re going to run into a Source Four ERS or Ovation LED ERS before they’re going to see a rental gig with 360Q’s on it.  Please do this.  It is so embarrassing for a student to ask how to run the barrel on a source four, for me, you, AND them…  because you bet your ass that information is going to get to someone you know that you don’t want to have know that your student had no clue.
  10. Do you know what RDM is?  Well, that’s a shame if you said no.  I’d learn it if you want students to be prepared.  OF COURSE they need to know what they are and where they came from, it’s our SM-58, essentially — they are used all over the world still.  But that’s also like saying that if you know how to use a hand saw, you’re good with a plasma cutter.
  11. Last but not least…  download some of the free MEDIA SERVER software available out there for use and abuse.  Teach your kids that we have these little computers that allow you to send console commands to them and play videos and images on video walls.  Can you believe that?!  If you’d have been keeping yourself relevant, you could.

One more thing:  getting “tenure” doesn’t excuse you from doing your job.  At all.  If anything, it SHOULD mean that you’re trustworthy of doing something GOOD and being better at it than the others in your faculty.  I yet to see a place like that.  Tenure in today’s society means that you have a harder time getting a tenured prof terminated.

Ok, I’m done here.  Pissed off?  Good.  Start making yourself a better teacher.  You’re sending out kids into a very complicated and dangerous world unprepared.  It’s time to put on those adult lighting undies and start kicking ass.  I’m counting on you, so are the rest of us.  Remember this:  we are all ineffective if we all don’t give a shit.  This may not be rocket surgery as Kirby Roberts always says, but to us, it’s our life and love and most favorite thing to do.

Now go get ’em, tiger.


SGM Lighting Files for Bankruptcy


G-Spot image courtesy of SGM Lighting

A source that wishes to remain anonymous has informed that SGM Lighting has filed for bankruptcy.  A press release is pending on the subject and will be released early next week from SGM.

Peter Johansen, founder of the Martin Lighting group, took over SGM Lighting about 18 months ago — today we learn that the company has filed for bankruptcy, and most of its 80+ employees have been sent home pending status clarification of their jobs.  This sucks.

From a Danish-news language article I found on this while trying to get more information — this is the first news of this here in the US, broken by

Peter Johansen bought the Italian company SGM Lighting in 2013 and moved in this regard all workplaces to Denmark – specifically Sommervej in Haslemere.

The aim was to create a leading global supplier of intelligent lighting design, such as machines that can perform 3D lighting effects.

The acquisition was also a reunion with the industry in which he left in late 1990, when he claims that it was ‘squeezed’ out of the Martin Group, which he was the founder:

I left the industry as number one in the world and then going back again .. It feels a bit back then, Muhammad Ali had won the World Cup and definitely going back and got a lot of beatings,” told Peter Johansen in an interview with TV 2 | ØSTJYLLAND in 2013.

Peter Johansen has also previously had a brief career in the luxury yacht industry with the company ‘Royal Denship’. The adventure ended in bankruptcy.

Sorry to break this news, world.  I for one loved the G-Spot.  In other news about SGM, the reallocation/acquisition of SGM by a new financier will bring another 400 jobs back to Denmark, so there is that.  Not sure how that helps the American lighting industry, but people having a way to sustain themselves no matter where they are is a good thing.  I’m sorry for the SGM employees who will suffer from this loss.

Hump Day Lighting Porn – Catalyst and DL3 Demo Room Footage from 2010 at High End Systems!

Having downtime has allowed me to dig up gigabytes and schmigabytes of video content that I’ve either A) got sidetracked during and never got to finish, B) decided for some reason that I needed to prioritize something else, or C) completely forgot about having altogether!  I found some really fun stuff last night while searching through content — a demo from 2010 at High End Systems of the Axon media server and DL3 digital lights!

I hope you enjoy it!  Please excuse my giggling at one point for a few seconds, I was having a frigging blast!  Thanks a lot, Richard!

Check out some High End Systems lighting demo porn from 2010!  From the Vimeo Channel:

Lighting Porn! High End Systems – Catalyst Media Server Demo, 2010, Austin, Texas from Jim Hutchison on Vimeo.

or if you prefer YouTube:

The Daily Lamp – Hourglass Lamp, Which Needs NO ELECTRICITY, for the People of Moore, OK

Today’s Daily Lamp comes in the aftermath of the horrible tornado tragedy from Moore, Oklahoma — the EF 5 tornado was 1.3 miles wide as it tore through houses, killing at least 24 people, including 9 children.  A very sad time in Oklahoma.

When these kinds of things happen and power goes out, people should be prepared to experience days — if not several days — before they get light and power back after tragedies like these.  That’s why I picked this Daily Lamp to represent today.  Meet Danielle Trofe’s Hourglass Lamp, in both Table and Floor varieties.  From Danielle’s website on Hourglass Lamp:

The Hourglass Floor Lamp is powered by kinetic energy generated from the falling of sand. This off-the-grid lighting solution illuminates interior environments using LEDs. The four foot tall, lean hourglass is suspended and rotates on a hinge so that it can be flipped with ease to extend the life of the light. This creates a user connection and a greater awareness of the value and finite source of light energy.

Dim: 5 W x 6 D x 55 H “

Materials: Handblown Glass, Hand Turned Sustainable Wood, Sand from Recycled Glass, Welded Steel Stand, LED’s

Options: Dark Wood with Black Stand or Light Wood with White Stand

Kinetic energy – this means that YOU DON’T NEED POWER for this fixture to provide light.  If you’re in a place with weather that frequently if not at least infrequently kills power to your home, look into getting something that allows you to have light without having power.



My thoughts go out to the people of Moore, Oklahoma in this time of terrible tragedy.  Mother Nature always wins.

Friday Facts – 20 Really Awesome Facts about LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) Everyone Should Know


20 facts on LEDs?!  Jim, are you CRAZY?  I just might be!  With the new Daily Lamp series and the upcoming JimOnLightTV, I’m all about having regular series spots on JimOnLight!  Let’s call it Friday Facts!

Happy Friday everyone — I am going absolutely LED nuts around here lately, as I’ve replaced most of the incandescent lamps in our house with their LED A-lamp equivalents.  Surprisingly enough, I haven’t lost my hair, found the need to eat bugs, or lost any sleep because of screwed-up circadian rhythms, as some claim are side-effects of LED A-lamps.  Ask my wife, it really annoys me when people claim false facts, like Fox News.  Oh, that burns me brighter than an Alpha 18K in Dallas in the summer!

Friday Facts time!  25 Really Awesome Facts about LEDs, or Light-Emitting Diodes!

  1. When LED light is used in delicatessen displays and in places with fresh food, it has been proven to breed significantly less bacteria than their halogen or fluorescent counterparts.  Consider that next time you’re getting stuff for sandwiches!  I would say that significantly NO bacteria is the right amount for my sandwiches!
  2. Remember the name Nick Holonyak, Jr. – he is the father of the visible light LED.  Nick invented the LED while working for General Electric in 1962.  This “new thing” that’s come onto the retail market over the last 5 years has been around since the mid-1960s!
  3. Next time you see a blue LED, think of Shuji Nakamura, the inventor of the blue LED, back in 1994.  Nakamura, who was working for Nichia Corporation at the time, got a $200 bonus for his discovery – while Nichia made more money than is in Scrooge McDuck’s swimming pool!  Nakamura never signed a non-disclosure for Nichia, and in 2001 he sued  for $189 million.  The Japanese courts awarded him more money than any other Japanese company ever had to pay in court:  $8.1 million.  So the inventor of the blue LED got $8,100,200 for his invention that we all use everywhere!
  4. Most blue and green LEDs use a mixture of Gallium Nitride and Indium Nitride to get the blue, called Indium Gallium Nitride (InGaN).  By varying the amount of Indium in the mix, the color of blue varies.
  5. Most red, orange, and yellow LEDs use variants of Gallium Phosphide (GaP) Gallium Arsenide Phosphide (GaAsP) to get their hues.
  6. White LEDs work quite like fluorescent lamps work with respect to color; a blue or ultraviolet LED is coated with a phosphor that emits photons from the ultraviolet frequencies when the LED is energized.
  7. The Monsanto Corporation was the first company to mass-produce red LEDs for the industry, mostly as replacement lights for indicators and seven-segment displays.
  8. An incandescent lamp converts about 9-10% of the energy fed to it into light, whereas LEDs convert nearly 100% of the energy they consume as light.
  9. The lighting industries as a whole are pushing LEDs to replace incandescent sources in a variety of applications, but the first time that LEDs actually did displace incandescent lamps was in vehicle brake lights, signal lights, and traffic lightsback in 1987!
  10. If the entire United States would replace only 50% of the existing incandescent Christmas lights around the holidays, the potential energy cost savings starts around $17.2 billion dollars.
  11. Heat generated by an LED source is a real enemy to the quality of that LED source.  LEDs are subject to the cooling method designed into the lamp or fixture — if the cooling is good, the LED will maintain a decent output over its lamp life.  If the cooling is poor, the lamp is subject to considerably higher lumen depreciation over its lifetime, or even total failure over time.
  12. If you’ve ever had a porch, you’ve had a porch light, and you’ve had bugs all over that porch light.  Switch to LED in the porch light and you’ll notice considerably fewer bugs, if not a complete decrease in your porch bug population!  Why, do you ask?  It’s because incandescent lamps and CFLs produce copious amounts of ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) radiation, which bugs love more than Kim Kardashian loves mascara!
  13. LED headlights might be one of the most annoying, blinding things on the road, but they’re actually quite safe for driving – LED headlights render colors you see in their beams better, which gives you better awareness of your surroundings on the road.  They’re totally worth it!
  14. Due to the physics involved, LED lamps have what we call Instant On — unlike their incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFL) counterparts.  What this means is that you can switch an LED lamp on and you get the full brightness of that light instantly.  Think about this next time you need to place a lamp in a part of your house or office that gets turned on and off frequently — incandescent lamps and CFLs experience significantly less lamp life from being switched on and off frequently, and CFLs in particular can experience greatly reduced lamp life if they are switched off and back on within 15 minutes of heating up!
  15. Most LED A-lamp replacement bulbs are relatively cool to the touch, whereas their incandescent and halogen counterparts will most definitely leave you with a first or second degree burn.  Maximum operating temperature for most residential A-lamp type bulbs is around 135-140 degrees Fahrenheit, where halogen lamps run around 600-700 F to the touch and their incandescent cousins run around 375-400 F to the touchOUCH!
  16. If you think about incandescent lamp life (around 1000 hours) and compact fluorescent lamp life (around 10,000 hours),  It’s not hard to see how LEDs are making the grade in retail markets.  A majority of residential/commercial LED A-lamp manufacturers claim a whopping 50,000 hours lamp life on average, with newer models claiming up to 100,000 hours.  If this sounds impressive, it is!  Consider your usage on just the 50,000 hour varieties:
    If you use your LED bulb for 24 hours a day, every day, that bulb is rated to last 6 solid years!
    If you use your LED bulb for 8 hours a day, every day, that bulb is rated to last 17 years!!
    If you use your LED bulb for only 4 hours per day, that bulb is rated to last 17 years!!!
  17. LEDs contain NO MERCURY at all — and over 95% of an LED is recyclable.  Compare this to the wasteful design of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which not only contain Mercury, but also create a large portion of electronic waste due to their design — the fluorescent tube portion of a CFL ceases to work long before the ballast inside the CFL or its other electronic components are ready to die.  This alone creates tons of waste every month.
  18. LED lamps on average are not subject to serious damage from external shock – which translates into “oops, I dropped my LED lamp onto the floor while I was changing it!”  If you try this with an incandescent lamp, you’re going to be cleaning up glass at least — and if it’s a CFL, not only will it break, but you will also need to follow Mercury decontamination procedures recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Yikes!
  19. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the widespread adoption of LEDs in residential and commercial applications over the next 20 years will save about $265 billion, prevent the need for constructing 40 new power plants, and reduce the electricity demand of lighting by 33 percent.
  20. Ever wonder why non-chip form LEDs have that little plastic bubble (or lens) around them, like in the picture at the top of the post?  It actually has three distinct functions, and the process of adding the diode to the plastic is called potting:
    * The plastic protects the tiny wires and components that make up the diode from physical damage, and protects the diode from open air
    * The plastic makes mounting the LED inside of devices and equipment considerably easier
    * That plastic lens allows the light from the LED to have a variety of properties, like different beam angles and diffusions


A Short LDI Walkthrough

Happy Tuesday morning, everyone!

I put together this short LDI walkthrough for those who weren’t there – it’s only 3 minutes and it’s not all-inclusive, but I think you’ll dig it anyway.  There’s nothing political, nothing about war, nothing about the Presidential election — it’s just pure light enjoyment!  Check it out!

MA Lighting’s USB onPC Command Wing for grandMA2

This was something that is just too perfectly timed not to catch my attention – I’m looking into using my wysiwyg Perform into a pre-visualization studio for myself (and perhaps others), and the two consoles I wanna run are the Road Hog Full Boar and the grandMA.

Translation from Jim to English:  the two consoles I wanna play with all day long on my own side projects and goofy 4am programming ruminations are the Road Hog and the grandMA.

The grand plan is to save up and get a USB programming and playback wing(s) for the Hog, and another console interface.  Not necessarily the grandMA2 stuff quite yet, I’m still a pretty basic grandMA programmer, and everything Jeff Waful (et al) has ever shown me on the grandMA that they use is just stellar.  I’ve been a Hog programmer since Kris Jones and Benny Kirkham showed me how to drive the Hog II back in 2002.  Marcus Wuebker was also pretty instrumental in turning me into a better Hog programmer, but I think pretty much anything those folks programs turns into a piece of art.

Then MA Lighting releases this – the onPC Command Wing for grandMA2:

So it’s a USB playback and programming surface for the grandMA2 software on the PC based lighting application grandMA2 onPC.  Specs from the brochure that got in my hands:

  • Perfect solution for flexible and mobile programming
  • Look and feel as known from grandMA2 consoles
  • 2,048 parameters on-board
  • Expendable by an MA 2Port Node onPC/onPC PRO
  • Light, handy & rock solid: extra small housing and just 6kg
  • Plug and play via USB: simply connect to your notebook
  • Fully integrated into the grandMA2 system

The brand new MA onPC command wing is the perfect solution
if you are working as a lighting professional all over the world, running a small club or theatre, want to join the huge grandMA2 family or simply look for a smart backup or preprogramming solution. 

Pretty cool.  I definitely wanna check this out.

Crazy Friday Science: Mini-Interview with Sonja Franke-Arnold on Rotary Photon Drag

I wrote an article about a paper I read in the journal Science a few weeks ago – the article was about Rotary Photon Drag Enhanced by A Slow Light Medium.  I got two handfuls of emails about the article, so I got in contact with one of the original paper’s editors, Sonja Franke-Arnold.  When you have questions, it’s best to go to the source!  Hi Sonja, welcome to! I’m very interested in your research, and we’ve gotten a lot of interesting response to the post I wrote on your paper, “Rotary Photon Drag Enhanced by a Slow-Light Medium.”  Can you take a moment and give us a bare-bones layperson’s look at what you and your team has discovered? What exactly has happened here in your experiment?

Sonja Franke-Arnold:  We were wondering how the world looks like through a spinning window!  About 200 years ago Augustin-Jean Fresnel predicted that light can be dragged if it travels through a moving medium. If you were to spin a window faster and faster, the image would actually be slightly rotated as the light is dragged along with the window. However, this effect is normally only some millionth of a degree and imperceptible to the eye.

We managed to increase the image rotation by a factor of about a million to an easily noticeable rotation of up to 5 degrees. This happened by slowing the light down to roughly the speed of sound during its passage through the “window” (in fact a ruby crystal). The light therefore spent a longer time in the ruby rod and could be dragged far enough to result in an observable image rotation.  Can you explain the significance of the wavelength of light you used? Why was 532nm (green) used for the experiment?

Sonja Franke-Arnold:  This wavelength excites a transition within the ruby crystal (the same that is also used in ruby lasers). Light at 532nm is absorbed and excites an atomic level with a very long (20 millisecond) lifetime. This allows to “store” the energy of the photon as an internal excitation of the rotating ruby crystal – generating slow light.  Tell me about the significance of the shape of the coherent beam in the experiment – was the shaped beam simply to observe a change in the image, or was a different purpose considered?

Sonja Franke-Arnold:  We used an elliptical light beam for two reasons, one of these is to define the image rotation angle as you suggested. The elliptical beam travelling through the spinning ruby rod however also plays an important part in making the slow light itself: At any particular position of the ruby, the elliptical light – spinning with respect to the ruby – looks like an intensity modulation. The varying intensity produces a large refractive index of about one million which slows the light down from the speed of light to roughly the speed of sound – a method pioneered by our co-worker Robert Boyd.  Could you give a few examples of uses for this discovery? How can the general populous relate to what this discovery really means for light and photonics?

Sonja Franke-Arnold:  For me, the main highlight was that we managed to observe a 200 year old puzzle – that images are indeed dragged along with rotating windows. We are now working on possible applications in quantum information processing: our image rotation preserves not only the intensity but also the phase of the light and could therefore be used to store and rotate quantum images. Access to the angle of an image could allow a new form of image coding protocol.

Thanks so much, Sonja!  Very cool paper for those of us nerds out here!

BLAZE – Laser Safety Sign Projection for Your Bicycle #cyclists #motorcyclesafety

CYCLISTS!  BICYCLISTS!  MOTORCYCLISTS!  Safety nuts and enthusiasts, take heed!

Ok, first – this is so effing cool that I am excited to try to DIY my own for those times when I’m out biking in the dark.  My good buddy Erich Friend from Teqniqal Systems in the Dallas/Fort Worth area sent me the initial article about this thing below – Erich is a technology and safety consultant for our industry, and he’s one of the smartest and innovative people I know in this business.

Ok, check this thing out – so freaking cool.  This is called BLAZE, and it’s been invented by a student at the University of Brighton.

Emily Brooke is the inventor of the BLAZE unit, from a press release sent from the University of Brighton:


The final-year product design student said: “I wanted to tackle the issue of safety of cyclists on city streets by increasing the visibility, footprint, and ultimately the awareness of the bicycle.”

BLAZE is a small, battery-powered device that is attached to the handlebars of bicycles, motorcycles or scooters, and which projects a laser image ahead onto the road. A bright green bicycle symbol travels ahead of the cyclist, alerting others to its presence. It has the option to be flashing, maximizing perception, and the image is visible even in daylight.

Emily said: “Eighty per cent of cycle accidents occur when bicycles travel straight ahead and a vehicle manoeuvres into them. The most common contributory factor is ‘failed to look properly’ on the part of a vehicle driver. The evidence shows the bike simply is not seen on city streets.”

She said: “Even when lit up like a Christmas tree a bicycle in a bus’s blind-spot is still invisible.

“With BLAZE, you see the bike before the cyclist and I believe this could really make a difference in the key scenarios threatening cyclists’ lives on the roads.”

The image says it all for me above – if you’re riding your bike in town, perhaps especially at night, and you get into someone’s blind spot – that’s it for that bike ride, if not any other bike ride again.  BLAZE is a product that projects a “HEY!  HEADS UP!” sign way in front of you, enough so that people will realize that they’re about to take away your birthday, so to speak.  Or “blow out your candle.”  Or “pee in your cheerios.”  Any of them.

We commend you, Emily!  Awesome innovation!

Rotary Photon Drag Enhanced by a Slow-Light Medium. Right? Right.

Remember that scene in the Jody Foster movie called Contact when they got all of those drawings of “the machine?”  There was a part of the movie where Ellie realized that the images were encoded somehow, and the key to encoding them was by looking at them in three dimensions.  Remember that minute little detail?

I read an article on this just the other day, and after I read the entire article in the journal Science, I really want to share the gist of this thing with you all.  It totally reminds me of this for some reason.  I was explaining this all to a friend on Skype, and I got tired of typing, and then the researcher slice of my brain started going ape-sh**.  Pardon me.

First, read the abstract of the article written by Sonja Franke-Arnold (School of Physics and Astronomy (SUPA), University of Glasgow, Scotland), Graham Gibson and Robert W. Boyd (Department of Physics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada), and Miles J. Padgett (The Institute of Optics and Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY):

Transmission through a spinning window slightly rotates the polarization of the light, typically by a microradian. It has been predicted that the same mechanism should also rotate an image. Because this rotary photon drag has a contribution that is inversely proportional to the group velocity, the image rotation is expected to increase in a slow-light medium. Using a ruby window under conditions for coherent population oscillations, we induced an effective group index of about 1 million. The resulting rotation angle was large enough to be observed by the eye. This result shows that rotary photon drag applies to images as well as polarization. The possibility of switching between different rotation states may offer new opportunities for controlled image coding.

Ok, got it?  Yeah, read it a few times, but generally the concept of the experiment is pretty simple, and the results are very interesting!  What these folks were doing was shining a shaped, collimated beam of light through a spinning ruby disk rotating at a given speed – in this case a maximum of 30 cycles per second.  The ruby disk causes a bit of “drag” on the photons travelling through it, causing the light to refract and exhibit some interesting behavior.  Check out this little video, from the paper and from the journal Science:

to view the .MOV file, click here

Ruby has a heavy Index of Refraction, which means the light is slowed down (refracted) at a rate of X when it leaves the air and enters the ruby itself.  If you imagine the 1.0 value of the Index of Refraction as how light travels through regular ol’ air (and not taking into account humidity, pollution, or any of that schtuff), anything greater than 1.0 is refracting.  Diamond has an Index of Refraction of about 2.42, and Ruby’s Index of Refraction is about 1.77.  Ruby refracts less than diamond.  Make sense if you didn’t already get it?

Here’s the weird thing – Ruby is not what we consider isotropic – meaning that no matter what the incidence angle is and no matter what the orientation of the crystal is, the light travels through the crystalline matrix equally as it travels through the medium.  Glass, sodium chloride crystals, and a lot of polymers exhibit this kind of “perfect” structure.  Sodium chloride is basically a cubic structure, relatively perfectly bonded in a cube matrix.  Ruby, on the other hand, is an anisotropic crystalline structure, meaning that there are more than one axes that are different within the structure of the crystal matrix.

Here’s a good image of the difference between an isotropic and anisotropic crystal structure, optically, from Olympus America’s Microscopy Resource Center.  Figure A is a sodium chloride crystal, which is isotropic.  Figure B is a calcite crystal, which has calcium ions and carbonate ions in it.  Calcite is anisotropic.  Check it:

Ok – now if you think of a crystal structure with light shining through its matrix, and the light is going to pass through two different planes of refraction, essentially – what do you expect to happen to one beam of light as it enters the anisotropic crystal structure and slows down?

Who said it’s going to split into two beams?  (DJ Lemma, pout your hand down, I know you already know the answer!)  You’d be correct – the incident beam splits into two beams, each sort-of along that individual crystal plane.  Take a look at this image of a calcium carbonate crystal, and how it is creating a double image:

This phenomenon is called birefringence.  Deep breath – bi-re-frin-gence.  Ruby, the gem used in the experiment, is also an anisotropic crystal, and it exhibits traits of birefringence.

So, imagine taking that birefringent crystal disk, spinning it at a relatively high rate (30 Hz), and shining a very specific wavelength of light (ie, a laser), that is in a certain shape through the ruby disk as it spins.  A bunch of stuff was discovered with this experiment, all related to the image.  The generalities of the experiment, as I paraphrase, is that the group shone a very bright laser with a square-ish shape through the ruby disk, noted the position that the laser had ont he other side of the ruby disk after it was on the other side of the disk.  When you shine a shaped laser beam at 532 nanometers (green) through a spinning ruby disk (which is a very slow-light medium, slowing the light down to just a few tens of meters per second) spinning at a rate between not spinning and 30 rotations per second, the image refracts from about a third of a degree to about ten degrees as the ruby disk increases from slow revolutions per second to thirty revs per second.

What a crazy experiment, huh?  I needed a good dose of photonics and optics in my Thursday!

The ramifications of this experiment have to do with encoding images with extra data – if you can imagine an image that has more information in it depending on which way the image is spinning, that is some trippy Minority Report shizzyhizzle.  “Oh, you’ve stolen my image!  But since you don’t know which wavelength to use and at which speed to spin the image, you’ll never decode my super secret plans of world domination!!!

Yeah, I have a vivid imagination.

HUGE number of thanks:
the journal Science
the Index of Refraction of Ruby and Sapphire (actually a very cool fact doc, check it out!)