MiSci program teaches students not to believe eyes

Educator Carolyn Niehaus holds up a poster with an optical illusion on it, delighting the kids when their eyes tricked them into seeing motion in the still image. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)Educator Carolyn Niehaus holds up a poster with an optical illusion on it, delighting the kids when their eyes tricked them into seeing motion in the still image. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

MiSci educator shows, explains how optical illusions trick the senses

BY REBECCA ISENHART
Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — Do you ever wonder how two different people can see different images in the same, carefully crafted illustration? Or how three-dimensional images appeared in Magic Eye books that used to be so popular?

After a 30-minute presentation hosted by the Museum of Innovation and Science at the Niskayuna Library on April 7, there are a few dozen elementary school children in town who could explain it to you. But to learn about it, they had to go through a gooey, icky science lesson.

MiSci's Carolyn Niehaus explains the dissection process to a curious young visitor. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

MiSci’s Carolyn Niehaus explains the dissection process to a curious young visitor. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

Carolyn Niehaus, an educator at MiSci who visited the library for the special presentation, brought some unusual equipment to the library meeting room: a cow’s eyeball, a scalpel, a tray and some plastic baggies. Wearing gloves at the front of the library’s meeting room, she began to slice.

She showed the retina, the lens, the nerves that stretch between the biological hardware of the eye. There were rods and cones, which process light and color. She squeezed a sort of eyeball juice into a plastic bag held by a brave elementary schooler named Sophie.

“Did everybody get to see the aqueous humor?” Niehaus asked the gathered students, who were on spring break. “How about the muscle? How about the lens?”

About a third refused to leave their seats, while the rest jostled for a spot where they could see the fascinating exhibit Niehaus had brought.

Eventually, Niehaus rewarded the kids for their bravery, dazzling them with intricate Moire patterns that appeared to vibrate before their eyes and a triangle that changed colors if they stared at it long enough. There was a 2,500-year-old optical illusion archaeologists had discovered carved into stone, and a Norman Rockwell painting that made them feel like they were standing outside a window.

A Niskayuna library visitor reacts to the icky process of dissecting a cow's eye. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

A Niskayuna library visitor reacts to the icky process of dissecting a cow’s eye. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

“Even then, people were creating these tricks between what our eyes see and what our brains can understand,” Niehaus said, showing off a photograph of the ancient art.

“I’m still not seeing it,” said one frustrated spectator while staring at a world map that revealed a woman’s face when viewed a certain way.

Shouts of excitement traveled through the folding chairs as the image began to appear to each child.

Any way you look at it, it was a fun, if slightly icky, way to bring art, science and history to kids during their week-long break from school.

Visit http://scpl.org to learn more about library programs for kids and adults at all branches.