Jeff Lieberman’s Time Warping Science

“What we take for granted is what’s real is not real.”

These words set the stage for last Thursday evening’s speaker. Before a mass audience, the fine line between the real and the unreal was displayed through scientific and artistic discoveries.

On November 5, the Mr. and Mrs. William F. Brossman Charitable Foundation sponsored Millersville University’s 25th Annual Brossman Science Lecture, which featured Mr. Jeff Lieberman, a musician, roboticist, sculptor, photographer,
and host of the Discovery Channel’s “Time Warp.” In Lyte Auditorium at 7 p.m., Lieberman presented to his audience a combination of artistic and scientific discoveries that were experimented upon the basis of what is real and what is not real.

In collaboration with the University’s 2009-2011 theme, “Remix the Future, Remake Our World,” 25 high schools in seven counties competed in an examination for high school sophomore and junior science and mathematics students, laboratory
demonstrations, and a special afternoon lecture for selected elementary and middle-school students. For each high school, only two students made up a single team. The top three teams were given certificates at the beginning of the. In third place were Justin Heckelman and Subramanian Iyer from Cumberland Valley High School; in second place were Helen Hutchins and Ben Clark from Penn Manor High school; and in first place were Jason Silverman and Bhaskar Balaji from Unionville High School.

Lieberman is not just the host of Discovery Channel’s Time Warp. He holds four degrees (two Bachelor of Science degrees and two Master’s degrees) and is currently pursuing his Doctorate at MIT’s Media Lab, studying how art and science can be combined to bring people together.

He is known for creating “technological sculptures.” At MIT he led the design of the Cyberflora installation, a robotic flower garden that senses and responds to people in a life-like manner, and the Motor Learning Robotic Wearable Suit, a robotic suit that teaches motor skills like dance, sports, and rehabilitation. He also produced kinetic art sculptures, including Absolut Quartet, a music-making machine that incorporates the audience into the performance, and light bulb, an electromagnetically levitated and wirelessly powered light bulb.

In addition to these pursuits, Lieberman also performs electronic music in the duo Gloobic. He has performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.

Lieberman’s newest venture, “Time Warp” on the Discovery Channel, focuses on the use of high speed photography to show viewers new things about the world. Lieberman takes regular events or actions, such as a cat licking its paw or a champagne bottle being opened, and slows them down enough so the human brain can process exactly what is happening. These wonders are both beautiful and scientific, an intermingling of genres that Lieberman has
perfected.

The presentation showed short videos of scientific experiments on his show. For 20 years, Lieberman has liked science and art, but could not figure out how it could come together. Then he discovered photography, bringing up the questions: “What is real and what is not real?” and “What is it that our eyes usually ignore?”

One example, and famous optical illusion is the television. It presents a sequence of 20-30 images, allowing an object to move from frame-to-frame. The brain and eyes coordinate, but are too slow to catch fast images. Depending on the type of animal, there are different color spectrums.

Lieberman is the lead designer for creating “technological sculptures.” The Cyberflora installation in 2003 had 20 robotic flowers that interacted with people’s emotions of either fear or interest.

Then there is the Slink in 2005. This project is a slinky stretched between two hands along a board illuminated by a series of flashing lights. The slinky moves in a constant wave motion while the blue blinking lights cause it to do any type of motion.

In 2007, a simple light bulb was suspended in mid-air electromagnetically. Similar to how a radio receives energy, the light bulb also receives power wirelessly, only in stronger transmission.

Finally, there is Absolut Quartet ,in collaboration with Dan Paluska in 2008, which consisted of three instruments. The main instrument was a ballistic marimba, which launches rubber balls roughly two meters into the air, precisely aimed to bounce off 42 chromatic wooden keys. The second instrument is an array of 35 custom-tuned wine glasses, played by robotic fingers. Finally, an array of nine ethnic percussion instruments rounds out the ensemble.

Lieberman also presented Newton’s Third Law, the law of reciprocal actions, which says, “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.”

Each experiment was slowed down to 10,000 frames per second, to allow the eyes catch up with the action. One of the experiments was a group of water-filled balloons shot by a shotgun. In its slow frame, it showed the balloons being disintegrated from the initial shockwave, front to back.

Similar to this experiment were three bubbles popped by a pebble. There were also three dry ice bombs tied together and placed in a water filled tank. The slow motion process showed how the explosion took place, frame-by-frame.

Also slowed down to frames per second, Animal behaviors were also slowed down to frames per second, such as hummingbird wings’ flapping and a snake shooting liquefied venom and striking a person. There were also sound vibrations such as strings of a guitar and drums, as well as a cymbal wobbling as if it was made of a softer material.

“The things we see are wrong,” Lieberman said. As Einstein said, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”