Visualize your Atoms with Danceroom Spectroscopy

Nathan Hurst

Nathan Hurst is an editor at Make. He loves anything having to do with science or bicycling. He tweets as @nathanbhurst.

122 Articles

By Nathan Hurst

Nathan Hurst is an editor at Make. He loves anything having to do with science or bicycling. He tweets as @nathanbhurst.

122 Articles

As ethereal electronic music plays, and five dancers sway in front of a large screen, their images — or rather, a representation of their images — weave and grow and glow behind them. It’s no mere projection, and it’s not a recording; it’s danceroom Spectroscopy, a projection technology that represents the dancers’ energy using (of course) spectroscopy.

The project’s creators, whose backgrounds range from chemistry to programming to choreography, use a 3D imaging system to capture the dancers’ movement. The result is fed through a computer that simulates the effect of that movement on the nanoparticles — the molecules and atoms in the air — surrounding the dancers, and projects it in real time. It’s not just a pretty picture; it estimates the position and movement of thousands of individual atoms, and tracks the way they interact, as they bounce off each other.

MF14BA_Badge-01The music, too, is an interpretation of the action of the atoms. The custom software represents their collisions and vibrations as data, and feeds that into music software that represents it audibly so it can be mixed into music.

Imagine the dancers as negative space; they’re these entities in three-dimensional space that are only represented by the air molecules surrounding them. When they move, the molecules are disturbed, and sent skittering into each other. Of course, the camera can’t actually film all that. What it does is film the dancers and simulate it as though they are force fields that the atoms bounce off of — or attract to, forming clouds around the dancers’ bodies.

The whole apparatus is made even more visually interesting by a set of effects that change the way the particles react and interact. Based on custom algorithms, the effects mostly grew out of actual research in molecular physics.

David Glowacki, a chemical physicist, started the project because he wanted a nontechnical way to share his research. But while it’s nice to look at, if you can make it to one of danceroom Spectrocopy’s live events, audience members can actually interact with the installation, dancing and playing with the otherwise invisible microscopic world. And we have just the opportunity for you; Glowacki will be presenting danceroom Spectroscopy at Maker Faire Bay Area on Saturday, May 17.

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