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Holographic tech hits RMSC 

This summer, the Rochester Museum and Science Center will present a new interactive exhibition featuring a display of working holograms and interactive holographic technology. The star of the new exhibit is a Holographic Laser Projector, developed and donated by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute of Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF.

Fraunhofer is based in Jena, Germany, a city that, like Rochester, is heavily involved in photonics and optical science research and development.

The RMSC will install the projector as a permanent addition to its "Illumination: The World of Light and Optics" exhibit in the Harry Germanow Gallery.

The new exhibit uses a combination of different colored, powerful LED lasers traveling through a lens that has been covered with extremely fine etchings or nanostructures — notches that are a billionth of a meter in size, says Daniel Menelly, the museum's chief science officer. "The light will be slightly separated, so that when you look at the projection, your eye tries to reconcile the slight separation of the colors, and it appears holographic," he says.

The principal hologram on view will show the skylines of Rochester and Jena. RMSC plans to present this along with an interactive exhibit in which visitors can combine different forms of intense laser light, and study how that affects the projection, Menelly says.

"It's fun, but the science has a lot of significance to our future," he says. "We wanted it to be curious, but also meaningful. That's the high ideal of science museums. Curiosity and wonder are like the first and second gears of learning."

The "Illumination" exhibit itself is an evolving one, with new content being added continuously, Menelly says. The holographic projector is only one of several additions planned; others include a series of oral history-type vignettes of people who have had or are having some impact on the emerging photonics and optics sector, Menelly says. This includes a series of shorts on a high school teacher whose students get a hands-on lesson of grinding lenses for eyeglasses.

By introducing youths to different types of role models to the community, RMSC hopes to get them to consider roles they can take in this technological resurgence of the region, he says.

The "Illumination" exhibit involves interactive elements for all ages, including a playable laser harp and a section where visitors can create a giant soap bubble and study the way the light reflects off it.

"What we try to do is make it meaningful and engaging to all learners in all contexts," Menelly says. "If a grandparent and a grandchild are still talking about it at lunch, you know that it worked."

Engineers are still studying the unfolding applications for this new technology, which is part of a greater interest in the behavior of light, Menelly says. For example, certain fields of science could become incredibly more efficient if scientists could find a way to capture and store information on particles or waves of light, he says.

The target date for the new exhibit's installation is mid-July, but that's dependent on different factors, Menelly says. RMSC's engineers are currently designing a series of interactive components that will feature this laser projection technology; if you visit the museum on busier days like Saturdays or vacation days, you can participate in the prototypes and give feedback on them.

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