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Who Invented the Kaleidoscope?

Written by Saachi Singh, grade 8 student.

The Kaleidoscope is an exemplary example of how science enhances our way of living. But what is this tool? How is it used?

By I Kid You Not , in Did You Know , at October 30, 2020 Tags:

Written by Saachi Singh, a grade 8 student

The kaleidoscope shows how fascinating science is. It allows us to understand the roots of our existence and our future and explains phenomena that are more often considered impossible than not. Yet, there is another aspect to science. It helps us not only to understand daily life but also to live it to the fullest by utilizing all its notions.

The kaleidoscope is an example of how science enhances our way of living.

An instrument made from wood/plastic and glass reveals an entirely new world through the play of light. A particular arrangement of transparent material reveals a beautiful world when one uses a kaleidoscope.
But what is this tool? How is it used?

The kaleidoscope

kaleidoscope

Fundamentally, the Kaleidoscope is an optical device that uses the properties of light to generate vibrant, rich, and unique patterns. An enthralling fact about kaleidoscopes is that no two patterns created by the instrument are the same. They are all special in their own way. Much like snowflakes, one never sees the same thing twice through a kaleidoscope.

The word “kaleidoscope” is derived from the Ancient Greek word kalos – which means beautiful, or beauty, and eidos, which means – “that which is seen: form, shape” and skopeō – “to look to, to examine”, as coined by its inventor, Sir David Brewster.

It is a very apt name. A kaleidoscope shows the whole scope of the different forms of visible beauty.

Structure of the kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes work through an interaction of light and mirrors. They have a little object enclosed within them that is the source for the images that form these varying patterns.

Kaleidoscopes can be of varying shapes and sizes. They can be handmade or manufactured. The price of such devices varies accordingly.

Today, most handmade kaleidoscopes are made in India, Bangladesh, Japan, Russia, and Italy, following a long tradition of glass craftsmanship in these countries.

The body of the kaleidoscope has two parts– at one end lies the viewing tube with an eyepiece and at the other end, lies the object case. The object box is a thin, flat box made of two glass disks that enclose objects the light falls on, which ultimately form the patterns.

A band circles the edges and holds the disks in the object box. Those objects are fragments of colored glass, beads, tinsel, or other reflective material.

Most kaleidoscopes have mirrors in a triangular arrangement inside them. The three strips are aligned at a certain angle that influences the optical patterns formed. Typically, they are angled at either 45° or 60°. 

When the object box is turned or tapped, the glass or objects inside move and tumble freely. As the viewer looks through the eyepiece toward a light source, the mirrors produce symmetrical order out of the tumbling objects and multiply them six, eight, or more times depending on the angles of the mirrors and the angle the light passes through them.

The science behind it

The kaleidoscope is characterized by a tube with mirrors lining across its inner walls, reflecting light repeatedly, leading to the colored objects being viewed through the end of the tube being reflected continuously and being broadcasted as vivid, colorful patterns and designs. 

When white light hits the surface of a mirror; it gets reflected. This light passes through the colored objects present in the kaleidoscope. Most light is absorbed by these objects.

When white light hits the surface of a mirror; it gets reflected. This light passes through the colored objects viewed through the kaleidoscope. These objects absorb the most light. Yet, whatever light is reflected from the object, passes through the kaleidoscope on the way back to the viewer’s eye.

The returning light is refracted multiple times by the mirrors of the kaleidoscope. This results in the formation of various patterns. Tilting the tube changes the view angle, causing a change in the optical pattern formed.

The mirrors are arranged in a way that the results hues of motifs will always be symmetrical, which is a property found only in them.

When white light hits the surface of a mirror; it gets reflected. This light passes through the colored objects present in the kaleidoscope. Most light is absorbed by these objects.

The mirrors are arranged in a way that the results hues of motifs will always be symmetrical, which is a property found only in them.

The inventor of the kaleidoscope

Sir David Brewster invented the kaleidoscope.

He was born on 11 December 1781. He was a British scientist, inventor, author, and academic administrator. He is recognized for his research, discoveries, and inventions in the field of Physical Optics. A Scot, he was born in the Canongate in Jedburgh, Roxburghshire.

Among the non-scientific public, his fame spread more effectually by his invention in about 1815 of the kaleidoscope, for which there was a great demand in the United Kingdom, France, and the United States.  It was primarily considered to be a toy.

The Kaleidoscope is only one of his many primary and secondary inventions, he is also remembered to be the pioneer of an improved stereoscope, which he called the “lenticular stereoscope”, the binocular camera, two types of polar meters, the polyzonal lens, and the lighthouse illuminator.

Unfortunately, due to a poorly written patent, Brewster did not profit from his invention despite its popularity. The first to manufacture kaleidoscopes at a widespread level was Charles Bush. He manufactured parlor kaleidoscopes which were popular in North America.

Uses of the kaleidoscope

These special devices are mass-produced from easily obtainable everyday materials, such as cardboard, mirrors, etc. Originally intended as children’s toys for entertainment, they are also used in the field of fashion design to supply new and distinctive ideas for patterns and colors to fashion designers and influencers.  Craft galleries often carry a few kaleidoscopes.

How to make the kaleidoscope at home

  1. Use 3 pieces of mirrored Perspex and roll them as tape in the form of a triangle. Try to ensure that it has a solid and is taped on the outside of the triangle.
  2. Sketch the small triangle located on the edge of the kaleidoscope to the overhead transparency paper 1cm extra around the triangle to allow the folding of paper.
  3. Keep the transparency paper to the edge of the kaleidoscope and cut narrow openings at the corners. Attach the paper to a separate place.
  4. Make another triangle (2cm taller than the last one). Take off small paper cutting for beauty and enamoring.
  5. Place the colored plastics at the end of the tool and add another transparent paper.
  6. Keep the second triangle upside down so as to leave ample space for plastic to shift between two transparencies.
  7. Now design it with colored paper, glitter, etc.

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