In which Miss Molly tries to trick your brain.

After my first vacation since I began work, it was nose to the grindstone and back to my favorite Messers!

This month’s Mess has to do with optical illusions and I am super excited about it. It is crazy the way our brains try to make sense of things and trick us into seeing things that aren’t really there.

I started off the program with some typical illusions to test the kids and get them thinking about how are brains work. colors

Answer: Two. One shade of red and one of green. Because of the white space, or the lack of white space, it changes how we see the color, depending on the contrast.

dotsAnswer: There aren’t really any dots. Scientists call this “visual vibration” and it basically means that when we see patterns of black and white, our eye sometimes confuses the two and blends them into patterns of gray; which is what we see here with the dots. You are seeing something that is not really there!

Now, for the image below, focus your eyes on the center dot. Move your head backward and forward. What happens?

swirlsThe circles look like they’re moving, right?

Insanity.

Now for the hands-on part. For this Mess, we made Thaumatropes and Zoetropes.

Now for a bit of history!

•A thaumatrope a popular Victorian toy. It is a disk or card with a picture on each side is attached to two pieces of string. When the strings are quickly twirled between the fingers the two pictures appear to combine into a single image due to the Phi Phenomenon.
•The Phi Phenomenon is the optical illusion of perceiving continuous motion between separate objects viewed rapidly in succession.
•Thaumatropes are considered to be a precursor to the movies!
thaumatropeWe used a template similar to the image above to create the ‘bird-in-a-cage’ image. On one side, the empty cage. On the other, the bird, loose and free. Spin it really fast and BAM: your free bird is caged. Sad, yet beautiful and super awesome.
You can draw your own templates, or find any number of them to make online, like this version from Non Dairy Diary. This isn’t the exact one we used, but it is a start.
I cut out little cardstock squares for the kids and they cut and pasted the shapes they wanted on. This gave their thaumatropes structure and made them much easier to twirl.
For our second project, we made Zoetropes.
•A zoetrope is a device that produces the illusion of motion from a rapid succession of static pictures.
•The zoetrope consists of a cylinder with vertical slits in the sides. Inside the cylinder is a band with images from a set of sequenced pictures. As the cylinder spins, you see the motion by looking through the slits.  The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together, and the user sees a rapid succession of images, producing the illusion of motion.
zoetrope-completeWe used an oatmeal container that I cut in half. I found several sequenced images such as a man walking, the horse running, and a couple dancing which I then made into strips.  The kids chose their images,  cut the slits in each of their containers, pasted the images inside, and gave it a spin with a tack in the bottom of the container. There are any number of tutorials online for this project as well, such as this one from Cut Out Fold Up, which is an awesome place to start. You can also draw your own images, if you are that artfully inclined and have much more time that we do.
All in all, this Mess was a phenomenal success! Several times the kids mentioned how they wished that they could do projects like this in their school science classes. That really made my day. I told them it’s all about how you look at the science that makes it fun and interesting. They said, “But this is cool! All we’re doing in school is Earth Science…ugh. Rocks aren’t cool.”
My new mission? Make an Earth Science Messes and make it awesome. I will be doing some research and will get back to you on that front once I have come upon something. All I have at the moment are inappropriate rock jokes.
For example:

Q: Why shouldn’t you let a geologist drive your car?
A: Because they get hammered and stoned.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s quite appropriate. I will keep searching.
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