As a fog machined filled the darkened room with haze, lasers flashed faster than the eye could track, throwing shapes up on the screen.

“Cool!” was the reaction

Not bad for 50-year-old technology!

LaserFest celebrated the 50th anniversary of the creation of the laser – that is: light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation – wowed the kids and adults gathered at the Morgantown Public Library Saturday (June 26) and more is in store, with shows planned for Charleston and Pittsburgh.

The traveling show is a presentation of West Virginia University’s Society of Physics Students and the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers Student Branch. It is funded by a Physics Sponsored Research Grant with $8,000 to celebrate the laser’s anniversary and encourage innovative ideas and experiments using lasers.

The goal of the project is to increase younger students’ interest in science and laser technology.

Michael Vannatta, from WVU’s C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry, said this is the first LaserFest show for the public. He has also been working with WVU’s Extension Service to put on laser shows for 4-H camps.

“The number one goal is to get kids excited about science,” Vannatta said.

The show consists of three sets of laser shows accompanied by music from The Beatles, Michael Jackson and the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The laser machine, made by WVU engineering students, has only three lasers, _ green, red and blue _ but can create any color imaginable.

The light travels so fast the human eye sees a whole image on the projector screen, when in reality the laser is drawing a shape really quickly – 30,000 points a second. So if a square is on the screen, the laser is drawing the shape of a square so quickly that the human eye doesn’t see the drawing action, only the square itself.

A fog machine was used so that the audience could see the laser beam coming from the machine and hitting the screen.

After the laser show, WVU physics students Dorthy Nelson and Ethel Perez showed the kids how to make their own laser at home out of just a clothes pin, cheap laser pointer, a tiny mirror, a few Legos and a spring from a pen.

“I think a lot of kids are under the impression that science is geeky and nerdy and for the smart kids,” Nelson said. “This gives them a chance to see how cool it really is.”

“Lasers are a really cool way to show kids about science,” Perez added. “It’s fun and interesting.”

Ian Hathaway, a 12-year-old who attends South Middle School, said he uses lasers as a cat toy. However, this presentation widened his view of their capabilities.

“I’ve been intrigued by lasers. I’ve seen videos about them on YouTube, and they’re so interesting,” he said.

Hathaway said these shows are also helpful because it’s important to teach students about safety regarding laser use.

Linda Wessels, a Morgantown resident, brought her 12-year-old son, Cole Prescott, to the show because he is interested in science.

“I like having the opportunity to expose him to things he isn’t exposed to on a daily basis and having him meet and interact with scientists,” she said.

Tim Hardwick, a Fairmont resident, brought his three children who are 4, 7 and 11 years old. They had seen a laser show at Oglebay Park in Wheeling, and it really caught their interest.

“It gives kids, even adults, a chance to see something they haven’t seen before and have it explained to them without having a class,” Hardwick said.

He said lasers are used in everyday life and people should understand how they work in the world and be aware of all the new technology that is developing.

For more information about LaserFest, please visit



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