'Painting' Without Brushes

Dr. Ronald A. Brown

OSWEGO-Thirty-five middle school students painted pictures in a physics lab at SUNY-Oswego recently-but there wasn't a paintbrush or palette to be seen.

The participants in Oswego's Explorations in Mathematics and Physics Young Scholars Program used polarized light to create their artwork.

The students, half from rural central New York areas and half from Syracuse, were part of a workshop on "Physics and Art-Figurative Polarized Light Art," taught by Dr. Ronald Brown, professor of physics at SUNY-Oswego.

The project was made possible by an in-kind grant of high-quality polarizing materials from the Polaroid Corp. of Massachusetts.

The students sandwiched materials such as invisible tape and plastic between the polarizing sheets to produce changeable patterns of the spectral colors of light.

The youngsters used stained glass window patterns of birds, butterflies and animals as well as Art Deco, traditional and Celtic designs. They filled in the patterns with the tape, which brings out color when viewed between two Polaroids over a light box. After "coloring" the pictures to their satisfaction, the students sealed the polarized light paintings with tape to take home. They can mat and frame them or hang them in a window.

"It gave the children a sense of pride in accomplishment and also let loose their creative talents in an unaccustomed direction," said Brown. The physics and art project was a continuation of a "Light and Color" theme for the four-week Young Scholars Program. The students went on to explore light and optics, using lasers. The program ends Aug.2.

The Young Scholars Program is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Along with Brown, directors of the grant include Dr. Jack Narayan and Dr. Philip Downum of the mathematics department, and Dr. Alok Kumar of the physics department. In addition to NSF, local sponsors such as the Syracuse School Districts, SUNY-Oswego, the Oswego College Foundation and the college's Auxiliary Services have aided past institutes.

Brown has had considerable experience in the areas of polarized light art, having written an article on the subject for the journal Leonardo, the publication of the International Society for Arts, Science and Technology. He has also worked with college students on a variety of physics and art projects and taught a course on the "Physics of Art." Brown and his students have given talks on this topic at science meetings, produced a physics art show at SUNY-Oswego's Tyler Hall and created a video from figurative polarized light slides, synchronizing the changing color patterns to the music of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."