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Learn the Science Behind Making Your Very Own Glowing Wall

We were already pretty sure that the luckiest kids in the world are the ones that get to test out former NASA scientist Mark Rober‘s super fun science creations, like when he made the world’s largest working Nerf gun, or the time he filled an entire swimming pool with 25 million Orbeez water balls, but now we are absolutely positive those kids have it better than anyone else after seeing how much fun it is to play around with your very own glow-in-the-dark wall.


Rober’s latest video is a how-to on making a homemade glowing wall, just like you have probably seen at a science or kid’s museum at some point. You know the kind, one of those big walls that captures your silhouette with a flash and preserves it like a captured shadow. He said he wanted to create one because when he was a kid a glow-wall was the first time science blew his mind. To check out that they are as much fun as he–and we–remember them being though, he threw a big party to make sure it was kid tested.

Consider it kid approved…and also adult approved.


To make one yourself you’ll need to use some glow-in-the-dark spray paint, or like he found, some glow-in-the-dark vinyl. Then, to create the projections, he said a standard camera flash works best, with the higher the wattage the better. You can also then “paint” on the wall using a UV flashlight (a normal flashlight doesn’t work so well), or a blue laser (a red laser won’t work at all).

And that has to do with how all of this works. (He is a man of science, of course he made sure to explain the “how.”) We can see with out own eyes a range of electromagnetic waves (think ROYGBIV), and outside of that we have invisible ultra violet light on the short wavelength side (near blue) and invisible infrared (…uh, obviously near red) on the long wavelength side. The reason we see some objects as fluorescent is that their electrons “get excited to a higher energy state by ultraviolet light,” and though we can’t see that light, when “they return to their low energy state they emit visible light that we can see,” and that’s the reasons fluorescent light appears to glow in sunlight or under a blacklight. That process is also why they seem brighter when we look at them (like that retro D.A.R.E. shirt he wore), because “more light is actually hitting your eyes.”


Items that appear to glow in the dark entirely are a special type of fluorescence known as phosphorescence. When it’s electrons get into a high energy state they get trapped, and it takes longer for them to get back to their low energy state, which is what makes them glow. That light is being emitted, but it takes a lot longer.


But as Rober showed, understanding how something works is only half the fun here, because beyond just throwing kids across the wall and capturing their images in midair, or recreating Street Fighter fights, he invited an artist friend of his to come over and turn the wall of science into a glowing, temporary museum.


We thought we were excited for that recreation of the famous E.T. scene of Elliott and his bike taking flight, but then we got to the part where we can recreate the Luke/Vader fight in front of the Emperor and we put in our own order for some glow-in-the-dark vinyl.


A glowing wall might have been the first time science blew Rober’s mind as a kid, but it’s still just as awesome to see one as an adult, only with the even cooler bonus of understanding how it works, and how to make one ourselves.

What would you create if you had one of these in your own home? Make our comments section below glow with your best ideas.

But why don’t lightsabers burn the user’s hands?

Images: Mark Rober

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