Keynote: Blinky Lights

By Don Rathjen and Paul Doherty (absent presenter Sebastian Martin) from the Exploratorium

A link to the powerpoint that accompanied this presentation will be linked soon.

“Blinky Lights” is a nickname for a small LED light by Inova called a MicroLight. The light has three settings: bright, dim and blinking. Pressing the light once sets it to bright which is on constantly; two clicks is dim and then three clicks is blinking. The dim setting is actually oscillating on a duty cycle that blinks it back and forth very fast. You can see this by setting it to dim and then waving the light in front of you. The “slow blink” is actually a 3Hz blink rate.

Using a Radio Shaq amplified speaker (~$15), Paul hooked it up to a solar cell and could audibly hear the change in the sound. He analyzed the sound using a free audio analysis software called Audacity and found that the light had 100 cycles/ second. The frequency was actually 97 Hz +/- 3%. Solar cells are attached to a mono mini 1/8” phone jack can be plugged into the speaker or an oscilloscope. The duty cycle is about 10% so that it blinks once every 1/100 hundredth’s of a second, a frequency of 100 Hz. It has recently been discovered that some new ones may be at 200 Hz on dim.

The human eye refreshes in such a way that one bright flash at least one microsecond long will cause the cones to fire for one tenth of a second. The amount of time that the cones continue to flash after depends on the brightness of the light. The memory of a retina is 1/10 of a second but the eye “forgets” 1/8 of a second later.

Blinky Lights can be used to determine the speed of motion of an object if the distance is known. You count dots (100 dots = 1 second).  Cameras used have to have a longer exposure time (preferably on a tripod) in order to catch prolonged motion.  Cameras can also be on “night setting” on cheaper cameras or even camera phones with the flash off. Either way the exposure time has to be increased; some actions will need only one second while some more artsy photos will need longer. A simple picture like the bike wheel below has a one second exposure time:

Blinky Bike Wheel

Paul demonstrates circular motion

Blinky Light Bat

Blinky Lights attached to a baseball bat

Paul demonstrated that the Blinky Lights can be attached to a baseball bat in three places: at the handle, near the head and at the sweet spot. When hung loosely from the handle and struck at the bottom, the baseball bat travels but the blinky light at the sweet spot reveals that the center of mass will travel in a parabolic shape.  If struck at the center of mass it will translate to the side with rotation in the other direction. You can find the center of percussion by finding the place that allows the bat to fall straight down without rotation.

Blinky Lights can be attached to a long PVC pipe as well to explore vibration images, resonances, etc. Qualitative observations can be made about several objects without measurements. Blinky Lights can be helpful to show time lapse of specific types of motion.

Blinky Lights are very helpful to show freefall and the acceleration due to gravity by attaching a blinky light to a ball. Two blinky lights on opposite sides can be used to experiment with different pitches.

Blinky Free Fall

Blinky lights show Free Fall

Don explored how to update role of the old fashioned spark timer using blinky lights. Without measuring time precisely you can say the distance between each pair of dots is a “tic” and use it as a unit of time. By measuring the distance in between you can determine the distance per “tic.” Don showed how by cutting it up you can create a velocity to time graph with each unit of “tic.”  This can be adapted with a blinky light on the same moving object. By counting blinks and using a measuring device such as a meter stick within the shot you can create the same type of graph.

Fan Cart cut for graph copy

Fan Cart Graph

Fan Cart Graph

Cars

Don used multiple cars to model different types of motion.

Don also modeled how to show acceleration of a two speed shifting toy car as it shifts speed. Blinky Lights can be attached to a variety of cars in order  to model different times of motion including constant velocity, acceleration, going over a hill, a “loop-de-loop,” etc.

2 Speed Shifter

A 2 Speed Shifter Car modeled with blinkies

Paul and Don also shared information about the Teacher Institute at the Exploratorium and several of their electronic sources listed below:

Paul Doherty’s webpage
The index page for his activities
The Blinky Light Snack from the Exploratorium’s Snackbook
Sebastian Martin’s home page
Sebastian’s Light Traces explorations
Don Rathjen’s activity index page
The Exploratorium main page
The Exploratorium teacher pages  for educators
Bree Barnett Dreyfuss’ qualitative Blinky Light Lab with student examples as well as pictures from years past on Flickr

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  1. NCNAAPT » Sticky: Fall 2010 Meeting summary — November 10, 2010 @ 10:54 am

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