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Bellingham
Friday, September 25, 2020

Laser show lights up Performing Arts Center

Laser beams broke through the dark on Western’s campus to bring an educational experience to more than 1,000 attendees from all over the community.

Students from Whatcom County elementary schools, as well as other community members, came to see “An Evening of Light”, a musical laser show that combined science with fun, Tuesday, Oct. 20 at the Performing Arts Center.

The show was made possible through a partnership with the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE), Prismatic Magic, and Compass to Campus, a mentoring program through Western for more than 1,000 5th grade students from Bellingham. It was intended to celebrate the International Year of Light, a global initiative aiming to highlight the importance of light and optical technologies for people around the globe, according to light2015.org.

Chris Volpe, the President and Co­founder of Prismatic Magic, ran the show as blue, green and red lasers danced on stage. Desiring an educational focus, Volpe first demonstrated what a simple laser looks like while holding a green laser pointer.

 Volpe usually has three associates working daily to create new animations.

“There is a reason why Pixar only puts out a movie every couple of years. Even though they’re using computers, same thing,” Volpe said. “We use computers, we use software to help create the images but ultimately, the human connection; I mean it’s the artistic connection and expression that makes it relevant.”

He explained how lasers cannot create shapes unless they are moving. Each laser produces it’s own wavelength of light. Movement is created when all three laser beams are combined inside his device and create a single, white beam. After this, a pair of oscillating mirrors are struck, which are moving at 60,000 RPM. That’s about the same speed as a jet engine.

Those little mirrors are what is responsible for creating the moving animated images on the screen.

Western assistant professor of planetary science Melissa Rice, gave the opening lecture. Rice works with NASA on continuing research using the Mars rover, Curiosity. Though this is a celebration of the International Year of Light, Rice said there is much more to celebrate than that.

“It’s a great excuse to get a bunch of kids excited about how cool science is,” she said. “So, I think it was an opportunity to use light as a medium to excite the next generation of scientists.”

Rice and her Mars research team consisting of eight Western students were on hand to help guide curious attendees and answer questions.

The Laser Road Show is a yearly k­indergarten to 12th grade school program put on by Volpe’s company in partnership with SPIE.

The show will travel to six other Whatcom County schools this week: Assumption, Park View, Happy Valley, Geneva, Nooksack and Vista Middle School. For more information, visit laser-roadshow.net.

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