Diffraction Grating Art

Diffraction Grating Art

M100 spiral Galaxy
M100 Spiral Galaxy

“M-100 Spiral Galaxy In Virgo” (left & right views)

As you walk by the M-100 sculpture/painting, colors shift across the spectrum.  Compare above photos, left with right, for color changes.  This spectrum shifting activity is accomplished by a rainbow hologram that acts like a diffraction grating.  The diffraction grating is imprinted into Mylar sheet then placed within a vacuum chamber in order to vapor deposit an aluminum mirror on the backside which amplies the visual experience.  I adhered this film to hammered aluminum panels.

In order for me to accurately define the image of M-100, I dabbed black Alkyd paint with handmade tools for feathering the edge of dark spaces of the galaxy image.  This technique allowed me to create a negative space painting.  The final work was originally installed in the main lobby of the Air Force Research Center on Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I understand that recently after extensive renovations to the lobby, M-100 was moved to another location.

84 in. x 84 in. x 1.5 in.,  weighing approx. 50 lbs. 

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Click on the images to the left below to see a larger image.

“Spiral Galaxy in Pisces M74”

Rainbow colors move with the position of the viewer, as shown in slide show and video.  Composed of a diffraction grating on Mylar film, heat pressed into a bas-relief work about 1/8 in thick, and mounted in contemporary box frame, 15 in. x 20 in.  Limited edition of 8 was started in 2022.

“Sandia Mountain Needle”

Diffraction grating on Mylar sheet, hot-pressed for relief, and mounted in contemporary box frame, 14 in. x 16.5 in.

“Light Waves”

Diffraction grating within Mylar film was adhered to textured aluminum panels.  The panels were lightly hammered then coated with epoxy in small ripples for an additional design element.  The mirror-backed diffraction grating was then adhered to this surface.  Each panel is 22 in. x 23 in.

Art can allow us to look inside to hold two opposing ideas, or the great polarities of the world, holding these tensions, questions, contradictions within us.  In so doing, we come to terms who we are.  This is the way it was meant to be.

“Hukuba 2”

Diffraction grating film on textured aluminum sheet.  Hukuba is the name of a mountain in Japan where the winter snow fields, as viewed from a distance provides the appearance of a white horse.  15.5 in. x 8.5 in., mounted on wood block.

“Window 1”

Diffraction grating film over hammered and textured aluminum sheet.  Black Alkyd paint was applied in a negative space painting technique.  This was one of my first successful experiments in 1997, proceeding larger works.  It was a wedding gift for my cousin in Minnesota.  24 in. x 24 in.

“Window 2”

Diffraction grating film over hammered aluminum sheet. 44 in x 44 in.

“2 a.m.”

Diffraction grating film over hammered aluminum sheet with painted aluminum trees in cutout silhouette form, mounted in the foreground.  24 in x 23 in.


Diffraction grating film on textured aluminum panels. 15 in x 16 in.

“Toward The Light”

Diffraction grating film on textured wood panel.  This was my first diffraction grating artwork sale out of the Johnsons Art Gallery, Madrid, NM.

“Galileo’s Ginkgo”

Diffraction grating film on cutout and textured aluminum panels. 42 in x 42 in.  Galileo used herbs for health; had his own vineyard and potted citrus trees.  So, I imagined that there was also a Ginkgo tree growing outside his home.  Might he have experienced the cosmos through the fractal branching of his Ginkgo? 

Later on when he was held under house arrest for publishing his scientific theory of the Solar System, his daughter, an herbalist Nun brought him healing herbs for the rest of his life.

Considering the effectiveness of his published Moon surface ink drawings, as viewed through his telescope, and how they changed the world view of Earth’s position in the universe, should we consider that art be taken as seriously as science?


Diffraction grating hot-pressed onto an epoxy casting of one of my rock samples.      7 in. x 5 in.

“Galileo’s Library”

Diffraction grating film on textured aluminum panel similar to “Window 2” above, except that the center of the spiral is located in the upper left panel.  This public artwork is presented in a contemporary box frame to give the appearance of Galileo’s window for his library.  Galileo was under house arrest after he published his book and sketches of the Moon’s surface and his theory of our Solar System.  At the time, the established version was that everything in the cosmos orbited around Earth.  Galileo changed the world view to the planets orbiting the Sun.  For this work, I imagined that Galileo had a window in his library.  When he looked out the window to think and dream, he would see the cosmos.  This work is located in an upper floor hallway of the Bernalillo County Courthouse, Albuquerque, NM. 

Artwork area is approximately 44″ x 44″.

Also see in PUBLIC ART.

Definition of Diffraction Grating

An optical device consisting of an assembly of microscopic narrow slits, grooves, or an array of dots which by diffracting light produces a large number of beams which can interfere in such a way as to produce spectra.  Since the angles at which constructive interference patterns are produced by a grating depend on the lengths of the waves being diffracted, the waves of various lengths in a beam of light striking the grating will be separated into a number of spectra, produced in various orders of interference on either side of an undeviated central image.  By controlling the shape and size of the diffracting grooves (width approximately equal to a wavelength of light visible, as seen through a scanning electron microscope) when producing a grating and by illuminating the grating at suitable angles, a beam of light can be thrown into a single spectrum whose purity and brightness may exceed that produced by a prism. Gratings can now be made with much larger apertures than prisms, and in such form that they waste less light and give higher intrinsic dispersion and resolving power. (This and the History below are from Wikipedia.com)

History of Diffraction

The work of Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1857-1894), and others confirmed that light did indeed travel in waves. Later, however, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) showed that light behaves both as a wave and, in certain circumstances, as a particle.

In 1912, a few years after Einstein published his findings, German physicist Max Theodor Felix von Laue (1879-1960) created a diffraction grating, discussed below. Using crystals in his grating, he proved that x rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Laue’s work, which earned him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1914, also made it possible to measure the length of x rays, and, ultimately, provided a means for studying the atomic structure of crystals and polymers.

Scientific Breakthroughs Made Possible By Diffraction Studies

Studies in diffraction advanced during the early twentieth century. In 1926, English physicist J. D. Bernal (1901-1971) developed the Bernal chart, enabling scientists to deduce the crystal structure of a solid by analyzing photographs of x-ray diffraction patterns. A decade later, Dutch-American physical chemist Peter Joseph William Debye (1884-1966) won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies in the diffraction of x rays and electrons in gases, which advanced understanding of molecular structure. In 1937, a year after Debye’s Nobel, two other scientists—American physicist Clinton Joseph Davisson (1881-1958) and English physicist George Paget Thomson (1892-1975)—won the Prize in Physics for their discovery that crystals can bring about the diffraction of electrons.

Also, in 1937, English physicist William Thomas Astbury (1898-1961) used x-ray diffraction to discover the first information concerning nucleic acid, which led to advances in the study of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the building-blocks of human genetics. In 1952, English biophysicist Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins (1916-) and molecular biologist Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920-1958) used x-ray diffraction to photograph DNA. Their work directly influenced a breakthrough event that followed a year later: the discovery of the double-helix or double-spiral model of DNA by American molecular biologists James D. Watson (1928-) and Francis Crick (1916-). Today, studies in DNA are at the frontiers of research in biology and related fields.

History of Diffraction Grating

The use of a diffraction grating was first developed in the 1870s by American physicist Henry Augustus Rowland (1848-1901). A diffraction grating is an optical device that consists of not one but many thousands of apertures: Rowland’s machine used a fine diamond point to rule glass gratings, with about 15,000 lines per in (2.2 cm). Diffraction gratings today can have as many as 100,000 apertures or lines per inch. The apertures in a diffraction grating are not mere holes, but extremely narrow parallel slits or groves that transform a beam of light into a spectrum.

Each of these openings or groves diffracts the light beam, but because they are evenly spaced and the same in width, the diffracted waves experience constructive interference. (The latter phenomenon, which describes a situation in which two or more waves combine to produce a wave of greater magnitude than either, is discussed in the essay on Interference.) This constructive interference pattern makes it possible to view components of the spectrum separately, thus enabling a scientist to observe characteristics ranging from the structure of atoms and molecules to the chemical composition of stars.