Help me see the light!
December 18, 2011 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Weird art/design/engineering filter: I need help designing a small, self-contained unit that will make a beam of light "visible" by filling the unit with smoke.

This is a bizarre question, but I could use the help.

I'm working on a project that will involve a pico (video) projector projecting a beam of light in a small plastic container, about one foot long and 6" x 6" deep/wide (a rectangular shape). I need to make this beam of light "solid" or "visible" by filling the plastic container with smoke and projecting into it. I need to do this in a way that is also not going to set off any smoke alarms, so it needs to basically be self contained, and the smoke needs to be present pretty much continuously.

Here are ideas/issues: one, I could install a long-burning incense stick which I would have refill from time to time. I imagine I would also have to empty out the smoke from time to time too. This is OK, but not ideal.

I could try to purchase or jury-rig some kind of small haze machine, perhaps run by an arduino, but I can't imagine how I could do this and have it produce *little* enough smoke to be effective, plus I suspect condensation would be a problem. Same with dry ice.

I could project through another substance such as solid frosted plastic or some of liquid, but I'm really looking for the effect of smoke.

Those are the only ideas I have so far. Does anyone have any other suggestions for ways to produce a small amount of continuous smoke? Thanks, hive-mind!
posted by Ms. Toad to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
A small fan circulating some sort of fine dust?
posted by jon1270 at 5:42 PM on December 18, 2011

How about dry ice? You could rig a cooler under the box and small vents. It works well with photographing laser beams.
posted by Yavsy at 6:13 PM on December 18, 2011

Perhaps you could rig up a very small drip of "fog juice" from a fog machine onto a very small heating element? if the container is closed an all sides, maybe baby powder with a small interior fan to keep it swirling around?
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:24 PM on December 18, 2011

Get yourself one of these. My son has one. There are very few parts so it would be easy to reverse engineer and come up with something that would work in your situation.
posted by alfanut at 7:29 PM on December 18, 2011

Ultrasonic nebulizer. (I got to use "ultrasonic nebulizer" in a post!)
posted by jet_silver at 8:02 PM on December 18, 2011

You can buy a small button activated smoke machine from any gift store for almost nothing and it won't set off fire alarms.
posted by empath at 8:39 PM on December 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses - definitely some products I've never heard of! My concern with most fog machines is that they ultimately produce water, and will gather condensation inside such a small contained space. Am I wrong about that?
posted by Ms. Toad at 6:03 AM on December 19, 2011

They're smoke particles, not water vapor.
posted by empath at 7:46 AM on December 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, though it's my understanding that fog machines produce water vapor, while smoke machines produce particles.
posted by Ms. Toad at 8:02 AM on December 19, 2011

Nope, it's from vaporizing mineral oil.

Water that's already in the atmosphere condenses on the particles of oil to produce the fog, but it doesn't make anything else wet... I used to be a club DJ and would be in the middle of clouds of smoke for hours at a time, and not a bit of it ever condensed on any of the equipment.
posted by empath at 9:09 AM on December 19, 2011

Response by poster: Gotcha - that's very helpful!
posted by Ms. Toad at 9:41 AM on December 19, 2011

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