Posts Tagged ‘science’


The exterior of the National Technical Museum is austere but the interior is magical. The exhibits are well curated to appeal to the child of any age and background. There were at least 11 major exhibits, and my favorites were Astronomy and the Measurement of Time. Prague was home to astronomers Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) and Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). The Astronomy exhibit, and the Measurement of Time, with great reverence and artistry, highlight the Czech contribution in these fields. Easy to visit via public transportation. A lovely kid and adult friendly cafe in the basement.









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The first thought that comes to mind when I look in the bottom of my cup in the morning is that a certain person makes a really, really strong pot of coffee in the French Press. Which is probably why of late I’ve only been drinking that one cup (or two) in the morning and having no more during the day. The second thought that comes to mind is “Wow! Fractals are everywhere!”


The patterns in the bottom of the cup are little different from the patterns in the sand as the sea washes up onto shore and rushes back again. And little different from the patterns upon the earth as wind and rivers erode the land. Same forces at work I’ve been told. A fun discovery … though I think I will need to cut my coffee with hot water in the future. 🙂


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… light, wind, and water in action at the Copley Square fountain in Boston. It was a breezy day with bright sun. I sat by the water’s edge with my camera tucked away, intent upon eating a late lunch. I’m glad I had no expectation because I may not have seen what I did see just by sitting quietly by the water. After a while I could not ignore what I was seeing and so I had to put away my lunch, dig out my camera, and begin to photograph the motion before me.

Autumn leaves floating on the water’s surface first caught my attention, but the brightest of the leaves lay on the bottom.  I’m not sure what forces kept them there even as the fountain’s mechanics and nature’s wind erratically churned the water. The sun was bright too, low angled. It dispersed in the waters producing rainbows.

Nearby buildings and surrounding trees were reflected so they appeared to float above the sunken leaves. A friend came over and sat next to me, and while I listened intently, yes I did, my eyes kept sliding back to the water to see what a friend describes as the accidental and casual things water does to light.

Accept for playing around with my ISO settings on the spot, there is minimal post processing of these images. If you chance by the fountain and sit by its side, if the day is sunny and the wind is rippling the water’s surface, this is what you might see too. Or maybe something different. But I think it will all be beautiful.


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… books by Bruno Munari on drawing trees and drawing the sun. Online descriptions suggest they were written for children but I think what is meant is children of all ages.  Unexpected finds as I walked through the library. Thank goodness I have a big backpack.

More information about Bruno Munari

Brainpickings on Munari: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/11/22/bruno-munari-design-as-art/

drawing a tree:  http://www.artbook.com/8887942765.html

drawing the sun: http://www.artbook.com/8887942773.html

Wikipedia on Munari: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruno_Munari

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Caustic in Black & White 1

Okay, I first remember reading about John Cage in a story by Alex Ross of The New Yorker. The piece opened with a description of the 1952 performance of John Cage’s composition, 4’33”, which turned out to be four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. It’s a bit more complicated than that, or maybe not, but you can read more via this article link.  John Cage and silence came to mind recently because I was sharing a video I’d made with the physicist in my life and when I asked him what piece of music should I pair with these images, he suggested, “soundtrack by John Cage.”

Caustic in Black & White 2

Caustic in Black & White 2

At first I thought he was kidding.  There had to be a short classical piece to fit the light and motion so reminiscent of northern lights.  When I’d asked him what music to pair with a short video of sunlit water flowing over rocks, he’d suggested Faure’s Requiem in Paradisum.  Now he recommended silence? On my own, I found Bartock’s Evening in the Village. I tried the pairing. He appreciated Bartok but he still favored Cage.  I read a bit more about Cage, his compositions, his performances, his poetry … an interesting man to say the last.

Caustics in Color

Caustics in Color

So what I captured on the wall one morning took place in less than four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  It involved a rippled window, a different one in the house.  Light shone down through the gaps in the leaves and branches of the oak tree that towers over the house.  That light made its way through the glass refracting through the ripples producing a dynamic pattern of caustics on the wall.  Most often that pattern of light is static but this particular morning the wind was blowing. The branches and the leaves they moved creating what that physicist described as “a pattern of illumination that varied in space and time.” It was a good moment inspiring some experimentation as you can see in the video below.  The flickering on the wall is as it happened … in less than four minutes and thirty-three seconds.

A Silent Dance from Cynthia Staples on Vimeo.

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The story behind the image:  Steve and I were taking a short walk along Revere Beach.  The tide had receded quite a bit.  He followed the water. I stayed on shore searching out seashells and stones and wishing I’d worn a thicker sweater.  As he returned to me, he suddenly paused and shouted, “Come here. You have to see this.” I raced over and looked down at where he was pointing.  Lines and curves in the sand?  “Bifurcation diagrams in nature,” he exclaimed.  I peered more closely, frowning.  He tried explaining the mathematics of what he saw for me. “It’s like the multiplication of little streams leading to chaos.” “Well,” I said slowly, “I’m reminded of those Asian landscape paintings of mountains with cascading waterfalls over the rocks.”  We studied the sand for a bit longer, he helping to point out different ways to frame photographs of the bifurcation he was seeing, and we both appreciating our different perspectives of the world.

A poster print of this “mountainous” scene is available online here.




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The morning began with a question, Steve asking me from a different room, “What are you doing?”  I replied, “Just looking at the caustics on the wall.”  He chuckled, probably remembering that he is the one who introduced the concept to me.  I had always accepted the light bouncing on water and other surfaces.  He explained the science behind what I was seeing.

He came over to stand beside me.  I pointed at the light and shadows shimmering on the wall above the bookcase.  He walked forward, and then with his back to me, said as if it was the most clear thing in the world, something like, “Formally caustics are where the light field intensity reaches infinity and …”  He added some other mellifluous statements about diffraction, refraction, reflection and so forth.

I’ m not a scientist but somehow the words sounded like poetry, as beautiful as the gentle burble of water flowing over rocks.  And like water over rocks, the words were gone too fast for me to hold them.  I had understood just enough of what he said to understand that I really didn’t understand what he was saying at all. “Can you repeat what you just said?” I asked hopefully.  He turned around.  “Hunh, repeat what?”

With some encouragement, he did try to repeat what he’d said.  Wasn’t quite the same.  The science was there but not the poetry of the earlier moment.  Even those words didn’t stick with me after he’d left. And I was reminded of a statement someone said about the physicist Richard Feynman, that in the moment as he stared at you explaining how the universe worked, you felt as if you understood it all … and then after he walked away … poof.  Well, after Steve walked away, I meandered about the house for a bit photographing light and shadows on the ceilings, walls and even the following image of light striking a part of the oven.  I think I see the poetry.  I just don’t have the words. 😉

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I’m no illustrator but I do enjoying pressing colored pens to paper, and the weather this weekend provided a good excuse.  You see, after a heavy rainfall late Friday, the sun came back out.  There was that magical moment of rose red clouds appearing.  I stood at one window watching the clouds form, but then by chance, I glanced over my shoulder through another window.  A double rainbow graced the sky. Later I tried to explain to that science guy of mine the beauty that I’d seen of rose clouds in front of me and being surprised by the rainbows behind me.  His response?  “Of course.  Your shadow points toward the rainbow.”  Hunh?!

I grilled him all weekend  and finally he was able to break it down to me in a way that I understood though it helped me to draw it out, too.

“If you’re looking at rosy colored clouds, you’re probably looking toward the sun with the sun lighting the clouds from below.  The sun’s white light — and remember that white light is really all the colors combined — is being filtered through the earth’s atmosphere.  Blue light is scattered leaving behind the reds.”

“If you’re looking at the rainbow, the sun must be behind you.  Why?  Because the rainbow is formed by white light hitting water droplets in the air.  Again, white light is refracted.  Different colors are scattered.  The angle at which the light strikes the water droplets produces the spectrum of colors you see.”

He had more to say about angles but by then I just wanted to play with the markers.

This morning he shared the following “timely comic: with me.  Enjoy:  Frazz Comic Strip, July 28, 2013






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I do not know if I will ever see an actual aurora in the sky.  But as I downloaded these images from my camera, that is what I thought of.

The strands of light were produced by a little USB plasma ball.  An office gift, Steve plugged it in one night to delight a young child, but turns out I was the one delighted by the light display.

I’m sure there are much clearer pictures I can take over time but I kind of like these dreamy shots.  They stir my imagination.  And they remind me of the words of Joan Feynman, thanking her brother for giving her the aurora.  Hear her for yourself via this short Youtube video.

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That is what that science guy of mine said over breakfast this morning.  “Beauty is fractal.  No matter the scale at which we view a thing, it is beautiful.”  We weren’t specifically talking about flowers but we could have been.  There is more I’d like to write about that statement but why when someone else has written so … beautifully … about “the mystery of a flower.”  If you have five minutes and eleven seconds today, check out this video and hear the words of physicist Richard Feynman on Beauty. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRmbwczTC6E&list=PL92F9FC91BBE2210D

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