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Poking Fun at Art

Science Snack
Poking Fun at Art
Explore light and color from a hole new angle.
Poking Fun at Art
Explore light and color from a hole new angle.

Set up some red, green, and blue lights and build a simple pinhole viewer to investigate colorful and creative mixtures of light.

Tools and Materials
  • Cardboard tube measuring approximately 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) in diameter and 4 to 7 inches (10 to 20 cm) in length (such as from a roll of paper towels or gift wrap; poster tubes and PVC tubes will also work)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Wax paper (or a white translucent plastic bag)
  • Two rubber bands
  • Pushpin
  • Red, green, and blue screw-in light bulbs, one of each color (can be CFL, LED, or incandescent)
  • Three screw-in light sockets
  • Power strip with at least three parallel outlets
  • Power source (and extension cord if needed)
  • Darkened room
  • Partner
  • Optional: black construction paper, two additional rubber bands

Build your pinhole viewer:

  1. Cut the wax paper to a size slightly larger than the diameter of the tube. Do the same with the aluminum foil.
  2. Cover one end of the tube with the cut piece of aluminum foil, folding the ends over tightly and securing the foil in place with a rubber band.
  3. Cover the other end of the tube with the cut piece of wax paper, also folding the ends over tightly and securing in place with a rubber band. Make sure the surface of the wax paper is as smooth and wrinkle free as possible; this will be your viewing screen.
  4. Optional: for better viewing, you may want to add a shade to your screen (wax paper). Roll the black construction paper around the tube so the wax-paper end is enclosed, leaving the foil end exposed by a few inches (10 cm). Secure the construction paper in place with rubber bands.

Put together your light source:

  1. Screw the red, green and blue bulbs into the light sockets.
  2. Plug all three sockets into the power strip and make sure the power strip is plugged in.
To Do and Notice

Poke multiple holes in your foil with the pushpin. Try creating an interesting pattern, shape, picture or word. Once you’re done, turn on one, two or three of your colored bulbs and hold your viewer up to the lights. Orient the viewing device so the foil side is closer to the lights and the wax paper is facing you. Hold the viewer so the light shines through the foil and makes an image on the wax paper. What do you see? Does the image look as you expected?

What happens when you rotate the viewer in your hand, move it closer and farther to the light, or walk around the light source? If you’re doing this activity with others, have everyone share his/her viewer around and take turns looking at each other’s creations.

What do you think will happen you change the lights? Experiment with different color combinations by turning bulbs off and on, dimming them, and/or blocking them with your hands.

Get a fresh piece of foil and make something new. Try more holes, try bigger or smaller holes, try holes that are closer or farther apart. You can also use different materials for your viewer, instead of wax paper or foil, or try different kinds of tubes and light bulbs. Experiment, use different techniques, be creative!

What's Going On?

Using art in science activities helps promote creativity, increases student engagement, and leads to good questions. Making art leads to experimentation, investigation, discovery, a deeper understanding of science concepts and a sense of ownership. This activity draws upon concepts explored in the related "Poking Fun at..." Snacks listed below.