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In this exhibition, users will discover how the eye works in tandem with the brain to provide us with information about the world around us, and how, over human history, scientists, mathematicians, and artists have sought and used that information. A series of exhibits, mixing different disciplines, offer a wealth of opportunities to explore optical illusions that fool the human eye, see the “invisible” colors of the spectrum, and reveal how shadows are created.

The eight main areas of Seeing the Light:
Bending Light

Light can behave in devious ways. With the right material, light can move in circles or hide for long distances. Light can also “change color” when it passes through the right material, and make other things invisible. You can explore the bending of light through displays using a convex lens, a pinhole magnifier, and even a “disappearing” glass rod.

Casting Shadows

Visible light cannot move through all materials, and when it cannot, the object “casts” a shadow – a projection that is the absence of visible light. Shadows have been used for a long time to conduct research, including to help determine that the Earth is round and as the main visual tool in X-Ray images. In this area of the exhibition, you can use your own body to explore the creation and manipulation of shadows.

Inside the Eye

The eye is frequently compared to a camera in that it has a lens that focuses light into a mechanism and it has an aperture that allows for variable light intake. And while that comparison may seem good, it ends there. The eye is intrinsically linked to the brain which is responsible for translating and processing the massive amounts of visual data carried everywhere by light. While a camera image is “What you see is what you get,” an image from the eye and the brain can be far different than expected. Each of the exhibits here explores the eye to reveal its makeup and its functionality. Learn about after images (shapes seen after a flash of light), blind spots and peripheral vision, as well as some elements of the eye, including blood vessels, corpuscles and the pupil.

Making Color

Color plays a big part in the way humans perceive and interact with the world. Color comes from different wavelengths of visible light that move at different speeds and react to the environment in different ways. In this series of exhibits, you can use filters, prisms, mirrors and lenses to explore how color is created, filtered and mixed with other colors to create both large and subtle distinctions in the visible world.

Mixing Waves

Similar to sound, or even water in the oceans, light moves in waves. Each spectrum of light radiation, from the range we see to invisible radio and X-Ray emissions, have different wavelengths and speeds. When those waves mix and collide, they can create some interesting effects. Each of the exhibits in this section works to visualize the way that light waves move and interact with other radiations around them to create some surprising results. In this section, you can pluck the strings of an exposed piano soundboard, use large metal oops to make enormous bubbles, and create a large soap film.

Reflecting Light

For humans to see an object, it has to send light into the eye. Lights, stars and flames emit light, but they are special cases. Most objects are visible because they reflect light back to eye in some way. How much light an object reflects – and how visible it is – depend on the material’s qualities. In this series of displays, you can play with reflection and the impact it has on the surrounding world. Try out the anti-gravity mirror, learn how kaleidoscopes work, and look into “infinity,” an exhibit of reflections of reflections.

Revealing Illusions

All visual information is ambiguous when it makes it to the human eye. It is up to the brain to create meaningful constructions. For example, when a person stands far away, they might look roughly the size of a cat – but the brain uses a series of tools, like comparing the human to another known object, such as a car, to give back a meaningful interpretation. In the absence of other visual clues, however, the brain can be fooled. In this section, you can try different methods of fooling your brain with visual information: step into the distorted room, see how different spinning disks cause you to see different illusions, and more.

Seeing Double

All visual information needs to be interpreted. Information that makes it into the human eye is highly distorted, and the brain has to sort it out, constructing meaning. But which version of the information is the truth? The filtered kind the brain supplies, or the raw information? That question may not have an answer, but this series of displays will allow you to explore the concepts behind this duality.

Admission, Directions and Hours

The Search for Life Beyond Earth is free with NYSCI admission and is open during regular museum hours:

  • Monday – Friday, 9:30 am – 5 pm
  • Saturday & Sunday, 10 am – 6 pm

Located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, NY, NYSCI is easily reached from the Grand Central Parkway, Long Island Expressway and the Bronx-Queens Expressway. Parking is available onsite. Or take the NYC subway: #7 train to 111th Street. For more information about travel options, see the directions section on our Admission page.

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Resources and Additional Info

Shadow Disco Video 
Tutorial: DIY Lightsabers
Educator Guides
Student Worksheet
Virtual Visits