Move over, aurora borealis

A student-designed light show wows the crowd

An outdoor light show on the coldest night of the season?

You better believe it.

Despite numbing weather, hundreds turned out to see "Aurora Digitalis," the College of Science and Engineering Light Show, on its debut weekend. Complete with 75,000 LED lights, 400 individual controllable lights and 450 microcontrollers, "Aurora Digitalis" was set to music and continued with shows during weekends in December at the Civil Engineering Building Plaza.

It all started with Taylor Trimble, a sophomore electrical engineering major, who brought his idea to a new club called Nikola Tesla Patent Producers.

"We're a self-starting club. You come up with an idea, and we'll help you do it," explains Trimble. "I threw [the idea] out at a meeting in September, and everybody fell in love with it."

The engineering behind synchronizing all those lights with enough music for a 15-minute show (not to mention stringing the lights around the Civil Engineering Building) took the efforts of perhaps 50 students. They built everything after the space became available to them, which was only a week and two days before the December 9 debut—so putting the show together was a herculean task by any standard.

Besides showcasing University of Minnesota science and engineering students' talents, "Aurora Digitalis" demonstrates that they know how to have fun in winter. Not that they lacked for it during the fall planning sessions.

"Getting everybody together and brainstorming ideas and getting people to come on the project was a lot of fun," says Trimble. "I like getting new creative energy, and every week there was more."

A few glitches popped up in the early performances, but no one seemed to mind.

"I was amazed at the crowd and how supportive everybody was, even when everything didn't go perfectly," Trimble says. "But the 7:30 show Sunday [December 11] was almost perfect."

The kick-off performances also featured entertainment and "Freezin' for a Reason," a 5K run for charity organized by the University's Science and Engineering Student Board.