Illuminating Alan Turing With The Caustic Effect

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Days since the Centenary: 144
Days to the Bicentennial: 36,380

The Turing Elves are at it again.

(Really? It’s almost the end of the Alan Turing Year and you haven’t encountered the term “Turing Elf” before? See the tab at the top or just click here.)

What have this band of Merry Mathematiphile Pranksters done today? Well, some folks over at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have been experimenting with the caustic effect, which Science Codex explains thusly:

This “caustic” effect is well known and easy to observe; a bit of sunlight shining on a pool of water produces patterns that dance on the surrounding tiles or walls. These undulating lines, apparently random, are generated by light that hits the moving surface of a pool or puddle. This effect, which is very mobile and dynamic in liquid, produces static patterns with solid transparent materials such as glass or transparent acrylic (better known as Plexiglass).

Their idea was to create a program that would allow them to shape a piece of glass or plexiglass or other material into a structure that would bend and focus light so that it would produce an image.

There’s nothing embedded in the material, and no image is imprinted upon it. Instead it is molded into a shape that will produce the desired effect when held in the correct relation to a light source and a target surface. That sounds all complex, and in fact it’s difficult to do, but once you see it, it’s easy to understand the theory.

Here’s an image of the caustic effect at work–and this is where the Elves make their appearance. Note whose portrait the folks at the Ecole chose to create.

The caustic effect, put to Turing Elf use.

The caustic effect, put to Turing Elf use.

If you want a more lucid explanation than I’ve given (and in a cool accent to boot), check out the video below.

I told you. Those fricken’ elves just never sleep.

[To find out more, see report from the Ecole here.]

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