Drops of Light

Drops of Light Mirages in the desert appear when air shifts more than two degrees Celsius per meter, and the cool and hot air pockets bend sunlight at different angles. BYU mechanical engineering professor Tadd T. Truscott and a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology captured a similar phenomenon when they used a black backdrop and halogen bulbs to snap photos of dense oil droplets plunging into a tank of rubbing alcohol. Because the oil and alcohol bend light at different angles, the outside edges of the oil seem luminescent.

Truscott and his team spent five days snapping more than 800 of these oil-in-alcohol images. This composite photo won the top slot in the American Physical Society’s Gallery of Fluid Motion in 2009. Since then, the pictures have been published in the Physics of Fluids journal, Cosmos magazine, and on National Geographic’s website.

Truscott says these photos celebrate the beauty within science. “It’s cool to stop the motion so you can actually understand what’s happening,” he says. If you stare at it long enough, “it feels like you’re in a 3-D fantasy world.” | Photography courtesy of Tadd T. Truscott