Elemental Vortex Final Project

Youtube’s compression degraded the quality of the video so it is also available here.



Elemental Vortex was a piece dedicated to the dance of fire and water. These opposite elements coexist in this glass chamber constantly swirling around one another until the flame eventually burns out, leaving behind the burnt husk of the wick as the smoke exits the fading vortex. This piece was inspired by the mystical nature of a water vortex where water enters and leaves a chamber at different rates but because of the swirling motion the competing forces are able to find an equilibrium and maintain an otherwise unstable structure. The fire aspect of this piece was inspired from my experimentation as a fire spinner. The way flames look as they move through the air is visually striking so I decided to incorporate this. Adding fire to this water vortex created a piece of artwork that was constantly in motion yet still maintained this careful equilibrium.   Even the slightest disturbance in the water can quickly collapse the vortex washing away the fire in an instant and I believed this phenomenon would make a visually appealing piece.

This piece consists of a water vortex created inside of a glass cylinder using an 800 gallon per hour pump which created a sizable vortex with a 2 inch central column with no water. In this gap in the water was a fuel reservoir for the alcohol responsible for creating the flame. I used 91% isopropyl alcohol as a fuel source because of its low temperature and relatively clean burn. Because the water vortex interfered with the airflow of the fire, it was necessary to add an air pump to provide enough oxygen to the fire, adding yet a third element to the mix. These elements were all combined inside of a glass cylinder to ensure heat resistance and visual clarity.

Overall I was pleased with the outcome of this project. I decided to work on something outside of my comfort zone involving more primitive aspects of light art rather than the electronics I normally work with. Pursuing this project taught me about how to work with new materials and the difficulty presented by working with fragile glass. Additionally, the fire aspect has given me a greater appreciation for the inner workings of a flame and has exposed me to how to control size, color, and burn time of an alcohol flame. As someone who has always been interested in fire, experimenting with the different parameters of an open flame was enjoyable and enlightening.

Here are pictures of the setup:

Base Reservoir and Pump

Fuel Source:

Here are some additional videos from earlier prototypes.

And for anyone interested, here is my first attempt at fire spinning and one of my sources of inspiration for this project.


Failures and Successes with Glass Working

This past week has been an adventure in glass working without the proper tools. I started out following a few tutorials on how to cut glass bottles using various household supplies such as acetone soaked yarn, a candle, and finally some boiling water. Each of these involved scoring the glass with a diamond edged scorer and then rapidly heating and cooling the glass to create additional stress until the glass cracked along the line. All the tutorials made this look like an easy task but with each of my attempts I would get a partial cut up to the score line, and in trying to finish the rest of the cut, the glass would crack along the length of the bottle.

Failures 1 through 3: Not my picture but the general idea

After failing with these attempts I decided to wait until I got at least one proper tool for cutting glass and I ordered these diamond edged drill bits.

These drill bits made cutting the bottom hole but they did not come without many challenges. Getting the cut started and centered was a near impossible task as the drill bit would walk all over the glass until if finally created enough of a cut to steady itself. I tried to resolve this with a bit of cardboard to hold it in place but had limited success. The piece I may end up using for the final product has a slightly off center hole which causes the vortex to wobble slightly.

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After the bottom hole I needed to cut a side hole to feed the piping through. This hole was supposed to be the same size as the piping but the smaller drill bits I had were unable to cut through the glass. Instead I tried to use the same drill bits designed for the glass but cutting on the rounded side surface caused additional stress which caused the glass to crack rather than create a clean hole. Luckily the crack did not propagate very far so I was able to patch it with some super glue and fill in the space around the pipe with some rubber putty.

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Water Vortex Maquette

For this maquette I wanted to test the size of the vortex as well as how the flame reacted to the swirling water. In order to achieve this I started by first ordering a pump and corresponding tubing. Once these arrived I worked with a few different water vessels in various sizes that I had around the house and decided that between a 4-6 inch diameter vessel will be the correct size with the current pump that I have. By drilling a 2 inch hole into the bottom of the container i was able to create a vortex that was wide enough to keep the flame going.

For the flame I created a miniature alcohol lamp from a small sample jar filled with 91% isopropyl alcohol with Q-tips acting as a wick. This worked well and created a flame that was around 2 inches high without any airflow changes

From these tests I discovered 2  main things. First off, the pump that I have many not be strong enough for any larger scale. As is the water height only reaches about 4 inches high. A smaller vessel or an additional pump may help this. The other observation was that the fire was trying to swirl but did not have enough airflow to make it work. I am hoping that increasing the height of the vortex will swirl more air and achieve the desired affect. Barring this, I may have to create a mechanical solution that physically spins the fire itself to achieve this affect.

Overall I was pleased with the maquette and I really liked how the fire reflected off of the swirling water.

Moving forward I plan to follow this timeline for the next week:

  1. Friday order glass and glass cutter for show vessel and water holding vessel
  2. Saturday figure out if it is feasible to cut glass using wine bottles
  3. Sunday experiment further with different sized vessels too see if I can get the fire to swirl more effectively
  4. Monday – determine how to mount the fire so it will not get wet but still achieves a tall flame
  5. Tuesday – hopefully receive glass and work on cutting actual products.

I also need to source the following materials:

  • Potentially an additional pump:
  • Glass/Acrylic/wrappable Viny cylinder to hold vortex
  • Glass vase for housing water reservoir
  • glass cutting tools
  • Nice looking screen to hide pump
  • potentially a motor to spin fire
  • funnel for easier refueling and possibly protecting the fire from the splash

  • Standard operation of the vortex

Vortex while spraying fire into the chamber

Water Vortex + Fire Tornado Concept Proposal

I have always been interested in water vortexes. The way the water flows around a central opening that extends deep into a liquid abyss is something that is mystical in nature. The sheer power behind the water and the way the light refracts off of the opening and down the column of air is a natural phenomenon that I could stare at for hours.


Along these same lines, when a fire is trapped inside a swirling tornado of air, the way the flames rise up to incredible heights and swirl around each other is a fascinating display of light.

For this project I propose to combine the 2 aspects of a water vortex and a fire tornado into one art piece. I want to design a figure that has a water vortex swirling around a glass walled cylinder, and inside of the column of air created by the vortex is a tornado of fire.

To implement this there are a few key components that need to be working. The first challenge will be to create a water vortex inside of a glass cylinder. To achieve this I plan to use a fairly high powered water pump that injects water into the bottom of the tank. As the water flows into the tank the water level will rise and create a spinning affect inside the tank. At the same time a hole in the bottom of the tank will allow the water to drain into a tank hidden from view where the pipe pulls from.

While the water is spinning up I have 3 ideas for how to implement the fire aspect. My first idea involved running a tube of propane gas into the bottom of the tank and allowing the rising gas to create the flame. The swirling affect of the water hopefully creates an airflow that will create the fire tornado and extend the flame to the top of the water. This will allow the fire to continuously exist without having to worry about a long term fuel source.

My second idea involves using rubbing alcohol to create a low temperature alcohol flame in the bottom of the tank. This would involve filling a small metal tub with ethanol that is then lowered into the tank and lit on fire. Then as the water fills the tank the tornado will form.

My final idea involves making the entire water mixture out of an ethanol water mixture so the actual surface of the water lights on fire and hopefully carries itself down the vortex. This method may not be ideal however as the fire tornado will not really form and it will use much more ethanol.

As an extension I hope to create some interesting visuals with either colored glass/mirrors inside of the tank, or possibly coloring the water with a photo-sensitive pigment or a temperature sensitive pigment. This will give the water some interesting affects but may mask the appearance of the flame.


Deanne Sabeck

“My light sculptures are created from pure light refracted into the brilliant colors of our physical world. Using dichroic glass, which divides the light spectrum, transmitting one color while reflecting its opposite, I create sculptural light paintings with forms and colors that continually evolve, appear and disappear in meditative patterns.” – Deanne Sabeck

Deanne Sabeck is a light artist who focuses on creating light sculptures by utilizing the reflective properties of dichroic glass. She began her art career while studying at Arizona State University where she pursued a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts.  Right out of school, she started using glass as her main medium. She created works that utilized stained glass, glass slumping, fusing, and blowing, and eventually discovered the material known as Dichroic glass. Since this discovery, all of her modern day pieces have included this special type of glass as it allowed her to work much more directly with light.

Being able to work directly with light became one of her great passions and influenced all of her later works. She is quoted as saying “I love the idea of working with the light spectrum itself so directly, as it is really the essence of life” showing the importance that she places on light.

Once she started using dichroic glass she has been commissioned for many public and private pieces, with a fair number of her works featured in healthcare facilities. These works allowed her to spread the feelings of hope and relaxation while cultivating each visitors curiosity and creativity. One of her major themes for many of these pieces comes from the words that she embeds inside her sculptures. Words such as, Illuminate, Inspire, Nourishment, and other uplifting words can be seen in many of her pieces. She hopes that these words in her sculptures will cause the viewers to really think about what each of these words means and she hopes to inspire creative thinking regarding these words.

Deanne Sabeck also does some work for charity. Her Raindrop Project consists of hundreds of individual drops of rain, formed from glass and adorned with this dichroic glass. With this piece she aims to highlight the importance of water and the uniqueness of life that water allows to live. Pieces sold from this collection also help donate towards the World Water Fund.


Steven Introduction

Hello everyone! I’m Steven Viola, a junior RBE/CS student. My interest in art first started in high school where I took some classes in graphic design and photography. In these classes I learned many of the basic principles of art as well as how to use Photoshop and take interesting photos. I have a little experience with light painting from this class as you can see below. Light painting is a ton of fun but I’m hoping to branch out into different light art mediums for this class. Since then  I have lost my camera :'( so I am back to taking photos on my phone and borrowing equipment when I can.

When I started at WPI I decided to continue my pursuit of digital art and took courses in 3D modelling, animation and interactive electronic art. These courses definitely expanded my artistic abilities and the interactive electronic art course really changed how I viewed art as it allowed me to incorporate more technical aspects.

On the tech side of things, I have plenty of experience with programming and electronics. I especially enjoy incorporating motion into some of my artwork and using clever programming to achieve some interesting effects. I have pretty extensive experience with Arduino and many of the connected actuators and sensors and I have created many custom circuits for a variety of electronics projects. I am looking forward to incorporating electronic elements into this project, but I also greatly appreciate elegant low tech solutions that seem almost impossible without fancy programming.

Another art form that I really enjoyed was fire spinning. Last summer I worked with a group to learn some of the basics of fire-spinning and I really loved the awe inducing effect caused by combining the danger and mystery of fire with a complex series of movements. Though I did not spend enough time fire spinning to be very good, it was a great experience that I wish I did more often.

Overall, I use art to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone. As a very technical and functional person at my core I normally focus on very practical projects and how they work rather than the visual impact. For me, art is a way to get away from strict requirements and use the freedom to try new things and experiment to see what is appealing to the senses. These artistic endeavors really push me outside my comfort zone and help me build my creative side.

Below are some of my recent works from WPI classes:

Here is an interactive piece where the robot tries to mimic what you are playing on water glasses.

Here is a model of Saitama from One Punch Man made using Blender

and finally on the very technical side, here is a game me and a partner made for the fall Hackathon where the theme was justice