BioSTEAM: Make an Interactive Polarized Light Visualizer!

Pollinator eyes are specialized to see wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum that we can’t see like ultra violet light that helps them navigate to nectar rich flowers or even prey. Pollinators like bees, butterflies and bats can also see qualities of light that we can’t see with our eyes alone like the light polarization that happens in our atmosphere. With some simple tools we can mimic pollinator eyes, and visualize polarization of light normally invisible to the human eye. Make a polarized light viewer that incorporates multiple layers of polarizing film to demonstrate the qualities of polarized light.
 
What is it?
A polarizer is a device that helps scientists, or other people with human eyes to see the phenomena of polarized light and to analyze materials. Some polarizing tools include a sky compass, polariscope and polarized mosaics. These tools use single and multiple layers of polarized film to visualize atmospheric polarization, stress test materials or to see things invisible to the naked human eye. (For more on these tools see the STEAM Wiki in the BIOSTEAM Curriculum Tool)
 
Polariscope + Sky Compass + Artful Display= Interactive Polarized Light Visualizer
 
Create your own interactive polarized light visualizer (IPLV) inspired by the polariscope, sun compass and polarized mosaics using polarized filters and recycled materials.
 
Get creative with your polarizer. Decorate your viewer to communicate something you learned about pollinators. For example: write a poem on the surface of your design about pollinators or the challenges they face; use colors or patterns to communicate a metaphor; experiment with the form to create something you wear like glasses; or another unique idea that you come up with.
 
Basic Parts:
Layer 1 of polarized film- Can detect polarized light by changing the liner orientation in relationship to waves. For example: a sky compass.
Layer 2 of polarized film- Can be used with light source like a flashlight or window. Put your material to analyze (like cellophane tape mosaic or piece of mica) in the middle of your polarized sandwich and observe the effects. For example: a polariscope.
 
Basic Project Materials:
 
1.    Polarized Film: Can be purchased in sheets and slides; can be salvaged from recycled phones, computer monitors and other recycled LCD screens; old polarized sunglass or 3D glasses.
 
2.    Cellophane tape like clear packing tape
 
3.    Recycled Materials like cardboard, card stock, sticks (for a frame), plastics to analyze, natural materials to analyze.
 
Build it!
Build a hand held frame or holder out of recycled or natural materials for one and two layers of polarized film that can be individually rotated- the goal here is to be able to use your polarized light viewer to demonstrate:
 
a) Atmospheric polarization of light and solar navigation
b) The use of polarized filters in seeing the invisible
 
Test it!
What can you observe with one layer of your Interactive Polarized Light Visualizer (for example: using as a sun compass)? What can you observe using both layers (For example: using as a polariscope)?
 
Materials to test in your polarized light viewer: Plastics (Polarizers are used to stress test materials in engineering!), minerals like Mica and crystals, iridescent bugs, a cloudy day vs. a sunny day. What materials can you add to your polarizer viewer to communicate something that you learned or want to say artistically?
 
Could you navigate the same way as a pollinator? Why or why not? What do we know? What don’t we know?
 
Extra Credit: What happens if you use your IPLV in collaboration with each other’s viewers? What do you observe with three layers of polarized film? What is happening?
 
Tips
Check the STEAM Wiki for more inspiration, STEM activities, and the science behind the project!

Keywords: STEAM activity solar navigation Seeing the invisible pollinators pollinator activity polarized viewer polarized light optics IPLV eletromagnetic spectrum VIEW ALL bee eyes waves

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