Friday, September 22

Shining on


Friday, January 10, 1997

Engineering students give LASERAMA a permanent home in the UCLA
PlanetariumBy Brooke Olson

Daily Bruin Staff

he neon signs on the new Ackerman building are not the only
bright lights blazing across the UCLA campus.

Laser light shows developed and produced entirely by students
are now being shown several nights a week in the UCLA
Planetarium.

Similar to the Griffith Park Laserium, the LASERAMA uses digital
computers to compose various color pictures that are projected onto
the roof of the planetarium.

"The show is, in fact, a microcosm of the (Griffith Park)
Laserium," said electrical engineering graduate student Mike Ross,
director of LASERAMA.

"We have a smaller theater than the park does and most of our
images are drawn beforehand rather than live like they do at the
park," Ross added.

LASERAMA is run mainly by engineering students, although any
students are welcome to produce a show. No class credit or salary
is allotted to the LASERAMA engineers.

"LASERAMA really allows students the opportunity to take a
project from the beginning and see it through to its completion,"
Ross said.

The show uses four different color lasers ­ red, blue,
orange and yellow ­ to produce various images. Other colors
can be made by combining any set of the four original colors.

Lasers are shined onto mirrors, which are attached to motors.
These motors move the mirrors back and forth at a rate of 10 to 15
times a second, projecting what appears to be an image onto the top
of the dome.

Some of the images are drawn before hand and entered into the
computer during the show.

However, the other images are drawn during the show, as the
LASERAMA engineer uses joysticks to determine the positions of the
mirrors.

"It is really quite an amazing technology and it really allows
each student a creative edge when determining what images will be
shown," Ross said.

The images are presented in accordance with a variety of music
tunes ­ everything from REM to Beauty and the Beast to the
UCLA Marching Band.

LASERAMA was developed by members of the honors engineering
society California Epsilon chapter of Tau Beta Pi as an attraction
for UCLA’s Mardi Gras carnival fund-raiser in 1980.

At that time, it was a very simplistic show, with an analogue
computer and one color laser beam projected onto the roof of a
specially constructed wood building.

The show was so popular that it continued to be shown every year
during Mardi Gras.

By the early ’80s, analogue computers were replaced with digital
computers, allowing for more extensive images to be produced. The
wood structure was replaced by a large cloth tent, sharpening the
image and producing a more popular show.

Although the show continued to make money even during the years
when Mardi Gras faltered, the festivals directors decided in 1994
to cancel LASERAMA.

But engineering students resolved to keep the light shining.

From the mid-1980s to the present, miniscule Laserama shows were
presented on Welcome Day for all engineering students.

In 1994, when the students were planning their soon-to-be
cancelled Mardi Gras event, arrangements were made with the
astronomy department to have the shows in the planetarium on top of
the Mathematical Sciences building.

Despite being thrown out of Mardi Gras, the show continued to
dominate Welcome Day events and in 1995 several students, including
Ross, decided to make LASERAMA a permanent part of the UCLA
scene.

"Our show worked really well in the planetarium on ‘Welcome Day’
and we decided that maybe we could show LASERAMA year-around at
UCLA," Ross said.

It was soon discovered that the Mathematical Sciences
Planetarium had not been used for the last five years. Since the
astronomy department did not have any future plans for the
planetarium, the engineering students made a proposal.

In exchange for use of the planetarium, the Electrical
Engineering Society would repair the damaged star projector located
inside the planetarium.

The astronomy department agreed, and in May of 1996 LASERAMA
found a permanent dwelling spot.

"It’s a fun show and it’s right here on campus and easy to get
to," said Jeremy Bayers, a second-year undeclared student. "It’s
also much cheaper than the Griffith Park Laserium."

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