lightpainted equations

… or, What happens if you give a geek a camera and a flashlight.

First of all, I want to apologize for my absence! It’s been a busy week and I’ve been going through lots of pictures, but they aren’t really for this blog. But now I’m back, hopefully with a more regular schedule!

Back to photography. Yesterday I had an idea that I decided to try out that same evening. It was very windy and dark , so I dressed well, packed my camera, a couple of lenses, my tripod and a flashlight. My idea was this: find interesting places in the city and make beautiful equations appear in them. Honestly, I don’t know where that idea came from, but I guess I have to admit that it has something to do with my imagination.

As I said, it was very windy, so it was a bit tricky at times. I’m not entirely happy with these and I want to do more of them (and practise mirrored handwriting while not seeing what I’m writing) – but this is a starting point!

If you have an equation that you’d really like to have appear somewhere in Helsinki, feel free to write it in the comments and I’ll see what I can do! No crazy long ones, though… Not yet.

You can find the second set here!

Let’s start with what’s been called “the most beautiful theorem in mathematics”, Euler’s equation. You can read more about why it is so beautiful here, but the reason I find it thrilling (yes, I love math) is that you take the constant e, the base of the natural logarithm, to the power of the imaginary number i, the square root of -1, times the irrational number π, the ratio of a circle’s circumference divided by its diameter, add 1 to all of this and you get 0. Isn’t it amazing how you can throw in imaginary and irrational numbers and still get such a rational and real result? This photo was taken at a cemetery…

This is a personal favourite of mine because of my background as an ant researcher: Hamilton’s rule. It’s a very elegant way of describing the situations when altruism may occur. This was shot in a park close to home in Helsinki.

I’m glad if you’re still here and haven’t been scared off by all of this! You really shouldn’t be. This, in short, is the formula for the frequencies of genotypes in the next generation in a population in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. I think I put this equation in the spooky attic because I never liked it very much – it’s in every basic biology textbook and describes an ideal population that could never exist anywhere (I know it has it’s uses, but…).

This well-known formula explains the relationship between the energy (E) of a body at rest and the mass (m) of that body with the help of the speed of light (c). This was the windiest of them all – it’s taken at the beach, right by the water.

I wrote Pythagoras’ theorem on the piano, because it was getting a bit too cold outside. It simply describes the relationship between the sides of a right triangle. From the first time I encountered this theorem, I’ve found it beautiful but not really understood why – like a masterful piece of piano music.


15 thoughts on “lightpainted equations

    • hehe, thanks a lot rose! 🙂 it took a few tries with some of these ’cause it’s really hard to write when you can’t see what you’re doing, but i think i got better…

      no, it’s not a secret: the shortest exposure was for the second and fourth one, around 30-40 seconds. the first and last ones were 90 seconds (i lit up the plant and the notes on the last one too, which took some time) and the third one was 150 – the attic was really dark!

  1. That’s a really great idea! I hope you try some more of these. I guess you could also paint the equations onto a surface (eg, using a flashlight) if you like.

    Some suggestions for equations: Newton’s Universtal law of gravity (F=(GM1M2)/r²), the Lotka-Volterra equations and the equation for the entropy of a black hole (which I’ve always found really beautiful for no good reason — I think I just like the way it looks).

    Good luck writing backwards in the dark!

    • Thanks for the ideas and suggestions! 🙂 I can see why you’d find the equation for the entropy of a black hole beautiful – I hadn’t even seen that one before.

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