LASER ART: Holographic rain forest surrounds visitors

Dec. 1, 1996
CAMBRIDGE, MA--An art exhibit combining holography, projections, lighting, and sounds has been installed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Museum.

CAMBRIDGE, MA--An art exhibit combining holography, projections, lighting, and sounds has been installed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Museum. Lightforest by Betsy Connors is designed to give visitors the impression of being in a rain forest and is a companion installation to the permanent holography display at the MIT Museum. The permanent collection was formerly housed at the Museum of Holography in New York City.

Visitors to Lightforest enter a room with curved walls. Holograms and projections of foliage cover three of the four walls. A "stream" with holograms and rocks is set into the center of the floor. More than 150 holograms are set into three walls and the floor or hang from the ceiling. Originally, says creator Connors, the "canopy" holograms were to be set into the ceiling, but this plan was changed when she found that it made viewing uncomfortable.

Although the exhibit opened in mid-October, some parts were not immediately operational. Now that the exhibit is completely installed, motion and pressure sensors detect visitors and feed this information into a computer that changes the lighting of certain holograms. Connors says this creates a sense of movement, of light moving on the water and wind in the rain-forest canopy. In particular, one hologram of a leaf was double-referenced, so that by controlling the lighting, the leaf appears to flutter.

The white-light transmission holograms were made with a Spectra-Physics Lasers (Mountain View, CA) 125-mW CW HeNe laser. Actual foliage is not stable enough to be holographed so Connors and her assistants had to make models of all the vegetation. "Finding materials was a problem," she says, and after trying silk"which looked plastic in the holograms"they turned to hand-made paper. Paper leaves, fronds, vines, and trunks were formed using plaster casts made from real foliage. The water holograms are one-step shadowgrams of a glass shower door.

"I wanted to create the feeling of being surrounded by holograms," says Connors, to get away from the more-common holography exhibit style of "a small framed image of a small dead item."

The museum`s education coordinator, David DeAngelis, explains that the media lab is designed to make holography accessible to students in grade school. "We plan on having kids come in and observe how holograms are made," he says. If the students are allowed several hours in the lab, "They can participate in making hologramsin composing a hologram and putting the components together." The students learn about properties of light and experience scientific processes and equipment. Although safety-related issues are still being worked out, the lab is designed to make holography as much of a hands-on process as possible. "Holograms are easier to make than a lot of people think," comments DeAngelis. "They are easier to make than understand."

More photos of the Lightforest exhibit are available on the World Wide Web at

About the Author

Yvonne Carts-Powell | Freelance Writer

Yvonne Carts-Powell is a freelance writer living in Belmont, MA.

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