R. Hoetzlein & Kimberly Iarossi

Timewave is both a science experiment and an educational experience. Contained in a clear cylinder of water, a single kelp plant is suspended. The ocean algae kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, is the most abundant plant on the planet. Kelp exists in all oceans, it grows at a foot per day (one of the fastest growing marine plants), and it is essential to the world's biological infrastructure. Charles Darwin once described Kelp as follows:

"There is one marine production which, from its importance, is worthy of a particular history. It is the kelp, or Macrocystis pyrifera. This plant grows on every rock from low-water mark to a great depth, both on the outer coast and within the channels. I believe, during the voyages of the Adventure and Beagle, not one rock near the surface was discovered which was not buoyed by this floating weed." - Charles Darwin

Timewave allows visitors to poetically examine the plant in detail. As the participant slides an aluminum ring up and down, a cross section of the plant is shown on the wall. Floating algae and other debis shift smoothly in and out of focus as the ring is moved. Timewave expresses our fascination with basic science through direct experience by exaggerating scale. In this experience, interaction expands a microscopic structure into a macroscopic one, asking us to consider the meaning to science in relation to ourselves and our view of reality.


Timewave consists of a central device containing the plant Macrocystis pyrifera housed in 4" diameter acrylic tube. A moveable aluminum ring slides freely inside rolled steel cylinders. Brass rods suspended in the space provide a counterweight to allow smooth motion of the ring. A projected image shows the cross-section of the plant and, as the ring is moved, the cross section changes dynamically.


Cables along the ceiling connect the aluminum ring to the brass counterweights. As the ring is moved, these wires also move. Mounted in the ceiling and connected to these wires is an ordinary computer mouse. As the wire moves it causes the computer mouse wheel to turn and register motion. Internally, this allows a computer to know the exact position of the ring.

To display a cross-section, a complete virtual 3D model of the kelp plant was created. The virtual model was created as nearly identical as possible to the real plant. This raises issues of illusion and perception in relation to scientific facts, which are almost always second hand (not directly observed by the public). From this virtual model, 640 cross-sectional images were created. A seperate software program records the position of the computer mouse, ie. the metal ring, and selects the appropriate image. By adding floating debris and motion blur, the projected image - entirely computer generated - gives the illusion of being a real cross-section. The effect was so convincing many participants, believing they were seeing the real plant, spent up to 30 minutes searching for the camera mechanism mounted in the ring before asking how it worked.