With 75,000 bulbs, Aurora Digitalis lights up campus

A CSE-sponsored light show will run Thursday to Saturday until Dec. 23

Physics senior Hunter Dunbar sets up lights for Friday night's CSE light show. Dunbar is an officer for the Nicola Tesla Patent Producers who played a large role in organizing the show.

Physics senior Hunter Dunbar sets up lights for Friday night’s CSE light show. Dunbar is an officer for the Nicola Tesla Patent Producers who played a large role in organizing the show.

Ian Taylor

Spectators gathered in the Civil Engineering Building Plaza werenâÄôt paying attention to the cold air, but rather to the flurry of dancing lights surrounding them.

Aurora Digitalis, the University of MinnesotaâÄôs first winter light show, kicked off Friday evening. More than 75,000 lights powered by 240 watts of electricity dazzled onlookers, as flashes of blue, green and red jumped across the trees and against building walls to song rhythms.

The display was designed and set up by College of Science and Engineering students, led by the Nikola Tesla Patent Producers (NTP^2) group.

âÄú[This is] unbelievable that undergrads have the motivation to get it together,âÄù said Austin Cole, a University freshman.

NTP^2 member Taylor Trimble came up with the idea, inspired by the âÄúCrooks ChristmasâÄù YouTube video. The clip shows a holiday lights display, synced to a digitized melody.

The project was funded through CSE, Parsons Electric and 3M. Mike Hepler, NTP^2âÄôs vice president, said CSE asked the group not to disclose the cost of the show because of theft concerns.

âÄúWe put [in] a lot of money, and if we make it visible itâÄôs asking for trouble,âÄù Hepler said.

About 50 students helped bring the project together, from setting up the plaza the day of the show, to creating the circuit boards.

 âÄúWe had to start this project from scratch,âÄù said Mac Cameron, NTP^2âÄôs president.

The group planned the light show in the first few weeks of the semester. But because of the time it took to approve it with the University, which didnâÄôt happen until nine days before the set date, there was a time crunch to get everything ready. The week leading up to the presentation was extremely busy for NTP^2.

âÄúThereâÄôs a lot behind the scenes,âÄù said Cameron. âÄúWeâÄôre probably averaging three hours of sleep [a day] this past week.âÄù

Originally, the group wanted to do the show in front of Coffman Union, but wasnâÄôt allowed to due to the buildingâÄôs historical significance. The hooks holding up the lights, could damage the exterior during installation, said Denny Olsen, senior associate director for student unions and activities.

Aside from navigating through the UniversityâÄôs bureaucracy, the group also had to figure out a new location, the timing, a setup for the software running the lights and how to synchronize the lights to the music. But creating an entire light show was a satisfying challenge, Trimble said.

Friday was the kick-off event. The show is scheduled to run Thursday to Saturday until Dec. 23, barring bad weather and lack of attendance.

NTP^2 has already agreed to do the show for the next three years.

Trimble said next year will be better because the group has a better understanding of what they need to accomplish.

âÄúFirst of all, we are moving all of our deadlines up a month,âÄù said Trimble.

Trimble also said that next year they will create their own computer software to control the show.