Skip to main content

Light in Motion

Light in Motion

an ongoing and collaborative investigation

For the last few months I’ve been playing with remixes and variations on the Tinkering Studio’s classic Light Blocks. What started as a project to play with the physical form of the blocks, has developed into a broader investigation into moving light sources and what they can add to a tinkering experience. 

My initial light block remixes were inspired by a few different things. I wanted to make some small changes to the existing blocks by making them rechargeable and trying to get them to look seamless by creating wooden plugs instead of using plastic ones. At the same time, the Tinkering Team was also playing with non-round rollers and that investigation definitely informed the designs of these remixed lights.  While there is some whimsy and delight in having a little wobbly light block, after hearing feedback from the team, I wanted to see what the effect would be if the light’s movement was controlled and replicable.

This desire for controlled and repeatable motion led me to look at mechanisms like cranks which inspired the "Crank Light." This mechanism held a lot of the features that I desired. It was interaction, kept the light moving in a controlled manner, and allowed the motion to be repeated indefinitely. However it was also a bit clunky. The mechanism wasn’t smooth, so sometimes the light would judder or jump as it was moving. Also, during a floor test of the Crank Light, I noticed that some visitors were more interested in the mechanism than the phenomena that the moving light created. I love the interest shown in the object, however I did not want the object to detract from the overall experience.

The latest breakthrough has come from outside of the Exploratorium. The Tinkering Studio is lucky to be a part of a community of practice called the Playful Museum Network. This is a community made up of a range of science museums from across the country. One of our collaborators from Boston Children’s Museum put out a call on the shared Slack group because they were about to embark on an investigation into Light and Shadow. Seeing this, I shared a video of the Crank Light and jumped on a call with our mates from Boston Children’s Museum and the Connecticut Science Centre.

What emerged from this meeting was a great remix of the fundamentals of the Crank Light by the Connecticut Science Centre. Using material that they had around their space, they replicated the moving light phenomena using two pieces of PVC pipe and a flashlight. The result is a smooth moving light that many other people can create. In fact, I made one for us here at the Exploratorium.


The result is a smooth moving light that many other people can create. In fact, I made one for us here at the Exploratorium.

This experience has shown me a lot. It highlights the value of sharing ideas with collaborators. Through sharing the idea of a moving light with other museum educators, I have gained a greater understanding of what it was that I was trying to accomplish. While I loved creating the Crank Light contraption, the real value in the experience was creating a moving light that lets visitors investigate different phenomena. 

Soon my colleague Steph and I will be in Boston to hang out with our friends from Boston Children’s Museum and the Connecticut Science Centre. I’m excited to spend some time prototyping these light investigations in person. I’ll be sure to share what we discover as we continue to investigate Light in Motion!

If you’re interested in learning and sharing your investigations, please reach out to us! You can also tag us using @tinkeringstudio.