Categorized | Education

Parker physics students build giant camera obscura

A small hole in the aluminum foil covering one of the library windows serves as the aperture of Parker School's Project Physics class' giant camera obscura. (Photo courtesy of Parker School)


Patricia Kassis’ Project Physics class has temporarily converted Parker School’s library into an enormous camera obscura. They began the project the first week in April and it continues to be a campus attraction.

The term “camera obscura” comes from the Latin meaning “darkened chamber or room.” It is a device that has been used for thousands of years, and is designed to channel and project a small beam of light through a small hole in one side of the chamber to reproduce an image (usually flipped) from outside onto a wall inside. The pinhole camera is the best-known example of a camera obscura.

“For years, I’ve had students make a handheld version of this using a cereal box,” Kassis said. “This year, we’re offering a new physics class with more of an engineering perspective. It allowed me to allocate several days to the project, and really get the kids involved in every aspect.”

The students covered the windows in aluminum foil to block the light, and a large sheet was hung as a projection screen opposite the one window whose foil covering had the small hole to let in the beam of light.

The first trial run of the camera was exciting. Kassis said, “Finally, after we turned the lights out, and even though we all knew intellectually what to expect, we were so excited to see the image come into view. We were cheering out loud. The image takes a few minutes to come into view because it is dim. It’s also not as brightly colored as we’d hoped. That’s a biological phenomenon having to do with rods and cones (in our eyes), making dim images appear black and white.”

Kassis’ physics class then opened up their creation to visitors. The school’s life science classes, physical science classes, and art classes were all able to integrate the experience of sitting within the camera obscura into their curriculum.

Project Physics student Kai Inaba said, “The camera obscura is a great example of the hands on course work that the newly created projects physics class takes on. Working together on such a large scale project epitomizes the work ethic and culture that the Parker School students and teachers embody.”

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