It’s one of those questions that typically first occurs at 3 a.m. or so, in college, after a long night of studying or recreational research: What would it look like if we could see sound?
Enter the CymaScope, an ingenious and surprisingly simple device patented by acoustic researchers Erik Larson and John Stuart Reid. The CymaScope turns sound vibrations into visible images by recording the play of light on the surface of purified water in a round dish.
After noodling around with latex membranes and particulate matter, the team discovered that the best results were achieved by simply pointing a camera straight down at the water’s surface, through a light ring illuminator on a stabilized rig. For more than a decade now, the team has been fine-tuning the idea.
The study of the visible manifestations of vibrations and sound — or cymatics — has been around for a long time. Da Vinci and Galileo both noted that particulate matter like sand, when scattered on a vibrating plate or membrane, would arrange itself into geometric patterns.
The CymaScope’s design, however, allows for very detailed images of any kind of audible (or inaudible) sound upon the surface tension of the water. Each sound creates an image that is unique, complex and often very beautiful.
The CymaScope has a potentially wide range of applications for both scientific research and artistic projects. For instance, Reid recently worked with a dolphin research team to image dolphin echolocation sounds using the CymaScope. Several musicians have employed the CymaScope for various projects.
And of course, the team has taken the idea to its most logical conclusion — a visual rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” Good thinking, fellas. Check out the video below.
Credit: 1O6C9LWOU via YouTube