Trippy photos show how beautiful water can look when it’s blasted with sound

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After a long work day, most of us happily collapse into a couch and binge-watch our favorite show.

But Linden Gledhill, a Philadelphia-based pharmaceutical biochemist, retreats to his basement lab. There, he builds custom gear so that he can record the beautiful, complex, and sometimes very weird intersection of science, art, and nature.

For example, Gledhill hacked an old hard drive into a camera shutter 10 times faster than anything in a store. He’s also rigged up a machine to create snowflakes on demand and patented a super-resolution photography rig.

Gledhill uploads his experimental photos and video to Flickr, and art directors and producers take notice – not only because he’s creative, but also because he’s good. He’s earned commissions for TV commercials and music videos, and most recently, high-tech prints of his photos were donned by fashion models.

For the past couple of years, Gledhill has been playing with a tiny dish of liquid that sits on a speaker. Called a cymascope, it’s designed to create and tune repeating patterns of waves, like those formed in wine by rubbing the rim of a crystal glass to make it vibrate or “sing.” These cyclical ripples, also called cymatics, travel far faster than human eyes can see, so he uses ultra-high-frame-rate cameras slow them down and record their secrets.

“It allows you to see the individual vibration states throughout the cycle. That’s pretty cool. Typically you don’t get to see that,” Gledhill told Business Insider. “Typically what you see is a fixed pattern or a changing pattern based on the frequencies you play through the liquid.”

Here’s a look at some of Gledhill’s newest experimental and hallucinatory imagery.


Gledhill started experimenting with standard macro-photography camera gear. He took images of a roughly one-inch-wide, quarter-inch-deep dish of water vibrated by a speaker.

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The camera peers down on the dish through a an LED light ring, which evenly illuminates the liquid in the dish. (In this case, malt whiskey.) The light ring is visible in a reflection at the center of this image.

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Here’s a photo of Gledhill’s cymascope rig at his home.

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By changing the colors of the LEDs and the frequency of sound, he can produce a diverse array of patterns as sound waves bounce off the sides of the dish, repeatedly cycling back and forth.

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Where waves meet and add up, they create nodes. When ripples cancel out, troughs appear.


“They’re highly complex, and the phenomenon creates huge ranges of patterns,” Gledhill said. Higher frequencies result in more intricate ripples in the water that distort and reflect the LED light in wild ways.

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Frequencies toward the lower range of human hearing, at around 20 Hertz (cycles per second), produce larger patterns. Gledhill thinks this one resembles an alien head.

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And he thinks this pattern — recorded in a mix of 90% rubbing alcohol and 10% water — looks somewhat like sheep.

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This one looks a bit like a wormhole in space.

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At certain frequencies, the waves resonate perfectly to create Faraday or standing waves. Basically, the waves line up so well, the liquid takes on a pattern that doesn’t appear to move.

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Gledhill eventually tried different containers for liquids, including plastic refrigerator-magnet letters with hollow backs.

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The word “cymatics” is cleverly spelled out here in several images of refrigerator magnets. The term is derived from the Greek word for wave. It describes any visible repeating wave pattern through a medium — water in this case.

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Gledhill also used square dishes to create cymatic images. This one became a music album cover.

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Source: Discogs


He eventually threw glass microbeads into the water to see what’d happen. That created a chaos of cymatic patterns.

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His work eventually caught the eyes of designers at the fashion collective Threeasfour and inspired a new clothing line. Epson (of computer printer fame) sponsored the work and provided access to a new fabric-coloring process.

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Instead of screening on one color at a time, Epson’s method can print full-color onto fabric.

Source: Fashion Week Daily


Threeasfour used Gledhill’s hallucinatory, fractal-like images as their muse for the project. “We’re obsessed with geometry. That’s how we design,” Gabriel Asfour, a designer behind the collection, said during a panel in February.

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Source: Fashion Week Daily


For his next experiments, Gledhill wanted to slow down cymatic patterns. A company called iX Cameras loaned him a roughly $100,000 high-speed camera (an i-SPEED 726R) that can record several thousand frames per second in full color and at ultra-high resolution.

The above clip shows the patterns created by two low tones, at 31 and 34 Hertz. The footage is slowed down by about 125 times.

Listen below to the tones that made the two patterns above:

Sources: Hadland Imaging, iX-Cameras


Minor variations in liquid volume and temperature ensure that no two cymatic patterns are exactly alike. These two at the exact same frequency, 62.8 Hertz, look slightly different.

Listen to the tone used to generate the waves shown above:


Higher frequencies create a dazzling array of patterns due to their higher energy.

Listen to the tones used to generate the standing waves shown above:


This image shows a full frame-by-frame sequence of one period of oscillations. It was taken with a camera that’s capable of recording up to 1 million frames per second.

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Gledhill says his experiments in photography are a hobby, and that he’s always looking to collaborate on interesting projects. “That’s one of my biggest drivers for sharing my work,” he said.

Watch Gledhill’s full video cut of different cymatic patterns below.