The Cosmic Stellarator  

Art for Burning Man 2018


The Cosmic Stellarator is a highly interactive visualization of slow coupled-wave phenomena on a large scale.  Participants will launch macroscopic torsional waves to explore wave properties.   With long, flowing, LED-highlighted waves the sculpture will attract attention across the Playa at Black Rock City in 2018. 

The project will consist of an array of 10-foot-long parallel poles on 1 foot spacing supported in the center by a 75-foot-long cable-pair catenary 12 feet high at one end and 18 feet high at the other.  The poles are horizontal at rest and rotate about the catenary axis when excited thereby raising one end of the pole and lowering the opposite end to form a wave which progresses down the set.  As the poles approach the high end of the catenary they will shorten and advance angularly in a corkscrew around the axis visually launching the wave into space.  Globes at the ends of the poles light up on the advance of the slow twisting wave. Hand cranks provided at one end and at the 50-foot point will allow participants to launch waves in both directions. See a small version of a torsional wave machine in action by one enterprising physics teacher:

Our project has been designed from the beginning with the idea of audience participation singly or in pairs.  Participants will launch waves from either or both ends and can explore how the wave interfere, combine, or pass through each other.   Dispersive effects of different drive frequencies also can be explored. With careful coordination two players can set up standing waves in the system.   The system has been specifically designed to produce large but slow-moving waves so the visual effect is one of gentle rolling motion like an ocean wave highlighted by bright LEDs.  All of the participant efforts will be sharing this experience of creative expression in a unique display highly visible across the Playa.

Cosmic Stellerator Layout Updated.jpg

Why do it?

Waves are everywhere.  From the infinitesimal photon to gravity waves spanning millions of lightyears we are bathed in a sea of waves.   The Cosmic Stellerator gives citizens an opportunity to launch their own waves in the space-time continuum and explore the properties of this ubiquitous phenomenon. We hope to share the joy and beauty of wave motion on a large scale.  We want to excite citizen’s curiosity in the physics governing large slow-moving waves.  This is an extension of our own excitement in finding beauty in the symmetry of nature and the mathematical equations that describe it.  In 2017 at Burning Man there were several major works involving programmed LED arrays with visual wave effects often synchronized to music.  We want to explore what can be achieved using the physics of torsional waves to produce the light and wave motion thereby creating the artistic display directly from fundamental physical principles via audience interaction.  Through careful control of the design parameters, a large amplitude wave will be produced with a group velocity slow enough for full appreciation on the human scale.

Below is a test of the full scale device without the lights.