optical invention

Franco Grignani(1908 - 1999)

Italian designer, painter & architect who first came into public view through his participation in the second wave of Futurism and Constructivism. Based on theories of perception, particularly on the Psychology of Form and his knowledge of architecture, he created more than 14000 experimental works. He became a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) in 1952: “Grignani studied architecture but became more interested in graphic design. He devoted himself to experiments in optical and visual design, painting and photographs. The Milan printers Alfieri & Lacroix allowed him a free hand with his typographic experiments. In later years he devised outstanding and novel photo compositions, based on optical systems he invented. He influenced many of his contemporaries.

1968 / ad for Alfieri & Lacroix / Milan

Johannes Kepler (Dec 27, 1571 - Nov 15, 1630) was a German astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician. A key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, he is best known for his Laws of Planetary Motion, based on his works Astronomia Nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome of Copernican Astronomy. (These works also provided one of the foundations for Englishman Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation.) During his career, he was a math teacher at a seminary school in Graz, where he became an associate of Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg. Later he became an assistant to Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, and eventually the imperial mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II and his successors Matthias and Ferdinand II. He was also a math teacher in Linz, and an adviser to General Wallenstein. He did fundamental work in the field of optics and invented an improved version of the refracting telescope (Keplerian Telescope). He lived in an era when there was no clear distinction between Astronomy and Astrology, but there was a strong division between Astronomy (a branch of Mathematics within the Liberal Arts) and Physics (a branch of Natural Philosophy). Kepler also incorporated religious arguments and reasoning into his work, motivated by the religious conviction and belief that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through the natural light of reason. He described his new Astronomy as “Celestial Physics”, “an excursion into Aristotle’s Metaphysics”, and “a supplement to Aristotle’s On the Heavens”, transforming the ancient tradition of Physical Cosmology by treating astronomy as part of a universal mathematical physics. Read more here.


The Ames Room

The distorted room was named after ophthalmologist Adelbert Ames, who invented the optical illusion in 1934. The floor, ceiling and side walls of the room are trapezoidal in shape but when viewed from a specific fixed point it appears to be rectangular.

We built this for the 2011 Christmas Lectures. See it in action in this clip from the lectures, or hear Andy talk about making it here.

Happy birthday to Carl Friedrich Gauss, born in 1777 in Brunswick (Germany). A student in the university of Göttingen, Gauss discovered several results in number theory and geometry, but he also developed techniques to predict planetary orbits, invented an optical surveying instrument, measured Earth’s magnetic field and developed geometric optics. The simple fact that there’s a Wikipedia page “list of things named after Gauss” should say enough!