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A Camera Lens Made from an Iceberg (mathieustern.com)
162 points by tbgvi 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

> I needed to find pure ice.

No you didn't. You could have done this with warm distilled water, then frozen, at home and had better results. But I suppose it's a good excuse to go to Iceland :) (If there was ever a need for an excuse!)

Or contact your local ice sculpture company. They have special ice freezers for making large, clear blocks of ice.

But I’d much rather make an ice lens on an arctic beach from an iceberg than walk a couple blocks and get an off cut from the ice sculptors.

You can also make (mostly) clear ice by increasing the time it takes to freeze, such as freezing water inside a cooler.

You need to control the direction of the freezing. As water freezes it will push the dissolved air out, and if it's freezing inward from the outside faces (like a normal ice cube tray) those bubbles end up pushed inside your ice block.

Using a cooler means the sides and bottom are insulated from the cold and won't start freezing as quickly. As it freezes top down there won't be any bubbles stuck there.

Demo on clear ice using a cooler from Cocktail Chemistry on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUHcCHbgX_o

Another trick is to drill holes in the bottom of the wells of an ice cube tray and rest the tray on a frame above the bottom of a basin. You fill the water up so that it's level with the top of the tray. When the water freezes, the air gets forced down through the holes in the bottom of the tray. Then you can chip the tray out and remove your clear ice cubes.

I find boiling the water does wonders too. Left overs from the kettle, room temp, make for clear ice cubes.

Hacker News is so wonderful, there's a never-ending array of amazing ideas to be found within these readers' posts.

I wonder if patent trolls ever snoop around here. ;-)

Because recently boiled water has far less dissolved gasses. So no bubbles.

10,000 year old glacier ice has much cleaner water memory.


(No Homeo! ;)


Yes and it wants to tell everyone to get off its lawn so that it can melt in pesce.

But then it wouldn't be "10,000 years old" :-)

>Iceland glaciers takes 10 000 years to purify the particles inside the ice.

There's lots going on there, none of which I am a fan.

Hence the :-) in my comment. What I took from the article was the wonder the author felt at "touching" history in this way. It is similar to picking up a fossil and knowing that a very long time ago something lived and died and you are now holding its imprint from so long ago. Many people I know have had a moment in their life where the concept of how fleeting our lives are really struck them to their core. Often it comes with a change in outlook on the value of their remaining time on the planet.

Like seeing ammonite fossil shells in the paving stone of shopping centres.

I wonder where fossilised humans will turn up in 200 million years...

I wondered if you could actually do something not quite like that, which is create a quartz version of yourself and then embed that in a chunk of concrete or something and bury it so that 10,000 years from now someone could "unpack" it.

Where are you finding young water? Do you have a hydrogen fuel cell?

The ice stayed in this form that long .. so it is old.

As opposed to the young ice?

"Get yer fresh atoms! Synthesized from energy that was created just this morning! Fresh atoms for sale!"

Or get one of these ice kits:


Hilariously I went on this tangent last night, and you can do this with a cooler, to give you "directional freezing" which I also heard people call "lake effect freezing". I'm trying it out this weekend for fun:


Wow, thanks for that! I actually have a few of those exact same spherical ice molds. If I can find a cooler small enough to fit in my euro-freezer I'll have to give this a try.

Holy crap $60?! Talk about a unitasker. There's plenty of great resources to make clear cocktail ice without needing to spend any extra money.


I was thinking the same thing and go to Minnesota in Winter where the life span of the lens would be four months long.

Except for sublimation, unfortunately.

yeah, 24 hours MAYBE?

Tangential note that I thought was interesting: I have an eye condition called Keratoconus. It developed mostly on one eye before I had a procedure done to stop it from progressing, but my vision on that one eye is affected permanently.

People tend to wonder why I don't wear glasses, and I tell them it's because they don't really help since I don't "blurry", I see "smudged". It's as if you took a picture with a camera with long exposure and moved it, but not quite.

The pictures taken with this lens are a surprisingly good approximation of how I see with that one eye (perhaps sans the whitewash).

I'm also a keratoconus patient; post DALK. This was exactly my thought, too. These photos accurately represent what its like to see without correction at a later stage in the progression of the disease (albeit quite a bit clearer, but the irregular distortion, halos and ghosting is certainly present)

You probably already know about this (especially since you likely had cross-linking done), but your vision might be helped by a custom scleral lens (they're unfortunately somewhat expensive).

Thanks for the tip, though yeah I have (: Fortunately, the brain is magical. It's mostly one eye that saw progression before my cross-linking-- the other one sees pretty clearly, so my brain has gotten used to it and I guess stitches things in a way that means most of the time I don't really notice it at all.

If I close the good eye, or focus on high-contrast, fine-detail things the effect will be clear, but I can thankfully go on my day to day without much hassle.

Few people will see this but I'll mention it for good measure. If you notice your glasses aren't quite right, or you need a new (especially if it's a very asymmetrical) graduation often, make sure to see an ophthalmologist. The earlier you detect keratoconus the earlier you can stop it from progressing-- I'm certainly lucky I caught it before both eyes were really affected.

I am somehow disappointed that the lens was actually just "your average lens size", and not really ... an iceberg infront of a camera.

I don't know what I expected.

Yeah, the title is a bit click-baity. I too was expecting some interesting experimental imagery where an entire iceberg was used as a lens, either literally or metaphorically.

> I too was expecting some interesting experimental imagery where an entire iceberg was used as a lens,

it says made from an iceberg... as in from part of an iceberg... do you know how big an iceberg is?

I thought it might be something similar to the neutrino detector. Where they somehow used an iceberg to deflect and focus some kind of radiation. The actual article was obviously in a very different direction but cool too in its own right.

Exactly! It'd be different if the heading said "A Camera Lens Made from a Part of an Iceberg". But as it stands, I went in hopeful that an entire 'berg would be used in some creative or ingenious way.

The title is correct. You would have been looking for "An iceberg as a camera lens"

likewise... I first thought... an iceberg? what?.... clicked through and was pffffft and the saw the blurry pics and was most un impressed. But now my expectations have sunk like the titanic I'm going, ok, that's pretty cool.

Why is this surprising at all? Any transparent material having a refractive index larger than air can be made to work as a lens. Pinhole cameras are much more interesting than this -- there the phenomena isn't refraction. An even more interesting lens is the Frensel lens [1].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresnel_lens

I, personally, have never considered shaping a piece of ice into a temporary camera lens. It's awesome, because someone's done it, and no one thought to previously. It's surprising that no one's done it, because in hindsight it's obvious. Why hasn't someone done this previously and posted on the Internet about it? Because human ingenuity is awesome.

CORRECTION: A piece of _iceberg_, which makes this all even _more_ awesome.

While not a lens shaped from ice there are people who have been working on lenses made from untraditional materials. For example here is a guy, Prof. Joshua Silver's, who has been working on eyeglasses for the developing world. From https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/302550.php:

> Each lens is made of two flexible membranes that move either inward or outward depending on the amount of fluid - a silicone solution - they contain.

> The lenses are connected to a small syringe that sits on each arm of the glasses, and the wearer can adjust a dial on the syringe to pump fluid in or out of each lens. When fluid is pumped in, the power of the lens is increased - correcting hyperopia, or farsightedness - while pumping fluid out decreases lens power, correcting nearsightedness.

Additionally he gave a Ted talk on the subject https://www.ted.com/talks/josh_silver_demos_adjustable_liqui.... Pretty interesting stuff. Granted this is all circa 2009-2015. Not sure what the current status of the project is.

don't forget people making mirrors using spinning liquid: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_mirror_telescope

My favourites are the liquid crystal lenses. Essentially they are micron scale Fresnel lenses controlled by electric field. No moving parts, very thin, ideal for something like a camera module.

I'm surprised that nobody managed to commercialise it in that niche yet.

Do you have a link for that? They have used holographic optical elements to make shorter SLR lenses, although I don't think the image quality was excellent, but if they went to the trouble it must have been fairly good.

doesn't really seem commercial grade yet: https://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2015/10/05/this-smartp...

I've been wanting to make a liquid lens VR headset to try to solve for vergence-accommodation conflict.

It is very cool.

While he's possibly the first to think of it in a photography context, I have heard of an ice lens being recommended in a survival context -- fashion a lens to start a fire with the sun.

I've had no idea if it is actually practical; I'm sure you'd need some very good dry & fluffy tinder. This photo experiment tilts it much further into the 'Plausible' zone.

Mythbusters tried this and got some smoke, but IIRC not actual flames. Seemed to be pretty possible though.

I can see that being possible. Cold, winter air is very dry. And frozen water doesn't tend to seep into things.

> It's awesome, because someone's done it, and no one thought to previously. It's surprising that no one's done it, because in hindsight it's obvious.

I’m incredulous.

What about a wristwatch made of meat? Opening a parachute underwater? Stacking seven iPhones as a doorstop?

If you make a wristwatch out of meat and post a howto video about it on HN, you will be front page within an hour.

If you make a parachute for divers that uses thermal currents to lift them up at the correct rate for avoiding the bends, then you’ll help them focus on underwater photography rather that dying, to their benefit.

If you build a doorstop out of iPhones, you might not get a front page, unless you do something more interesting.

You’re thinking along the right lines! Keep it up.

Darn, foiled again. My sarcastic examples of useless ideas turn out to be useful.

Any beginner tips for brainstorming lead into gold?

1) Succeed at it 2) Write a post for HN 3) Profit

No one said it was surprising. "I was amazed by the strange beauty of the images I made with the first ever 10 000 year old lens." In fact he worked on the project for six months before leaving for Iceland, so it was whatever the opposite of a surprise is.

It's not interesting that it's possible. It's interesting that someone actually did it.

I wasn't expecting the video to be so professionally made. Before I watched I thought "prepare myself for grainy, shakey video", then as I started watching I was thinking "he must have a go pro" and then "hell this is good" and finally "ah OK seem like he is a professional video guy"

And artist, a video guy likely wouldn't have hastened climate change for the sake of poetic cred.

>a video guy likely wouldn't have hastened climate change

I know that it's a fallacy to say that one person isn't enough to make a difference, but I think taking a lens sized chunk of ice off a multi-acre glacier is, really, not making a difference.

Unless he swam he probably flew to Iceland, which I suspect might be what GP meant by hasten.

o_o ... I can't really think of a less generous interpretation, but still coherent, of my comment than that.

I was of course referring to the fact that for a handful of clear ice he travelled 3000 km, contributing to climate change to visit one of the natural objects that exact behaviour is rapidly exterminating.

Reminds me of my high school photography class, where we made camera obscuras (pinhole cameras) out of an oatmeal container. Did it make the best-quality images? No. But it was still one of the more memorable projects I did in high school.

Making optical grade ice is not trivial. Not hard but I never did get good results.

Start with good water.

Freeze in a gradient(top down is easiest) half of your ice will still be garbage.

Explicitly: by gradient I mean put it in an insulated container so that it freezes starting at the top and ending at the bottom.

BTW, this reminds me of an easy way to make a GRIN lens: http://www.laurawaller.com/opticsfun/sugarGRINlens.htm

That's neat; a friend of mine made a GRIN lens by letting gelatin set in a cup on a turntable; the density increased with the radius so it acted as a concave lens despite being disc shaped.

Why is top down easier? I have a few "neat ice kit" which does that for ice cubes for drinking, but the results are very mixed.

I've always wondered why it's a top down design instead of a bottom up? It seems to me like if you were to freeze a container bottom up, the impurities would be pushed out towards the top, and eventually out of the water into the air above, instead of making bulging shapes as ice expands and wasting half your ice with trapped impurities.

I should test the theory later at home.

Mainly mechanical

Top down you can put the the water in a small ice chest and the insulation will slow the freeze in the bulk. otherwise it freezes outside in

That ice floats may play some role, I am not sure if for or against.

I made a couple of attempts, just for fun, and found the ice chest necessary but never made a systematic study of the process.

I'd suggest that heating the water first would be a good idea. Heating water gets rid of a lot of the disolved air (all those little bubbles on the way to boiling).

Probably better if you don't expose the water to air after heating it until it is frozen.

It gives a nice soft, watery focus, it appears. :)

Couldn't you just make distilled water clear ice at home, or does it need high pressure to remove aberrations?

Chromatic aberrations cannot be removed using a material of just one refractive index. And as the video shows this lens has chromatic aberrations.

Some of the blurriness seems related to melting on the surface layer. I wonder if he had made a metallic lens housing which was supercooled to prevent melting if the result would have been better.

Using distilled water doesn't make ice much clearer. There will always be impurities (like air) in the water which get pushed towards the center of the ice as it freezes. Another issue is that ice is less dense than water, so in a partially frozen ice cube the center will require more space when frozen than is currently available, leading to cracks.

To get clear ice, you need to freeze water directionally, in layers. It's the only way to get clear ice.

I make clear ice at home with those specialized insulated/rubberized coolers. The distilled part I mentioned is in relation to impurities and that glacial ice was the most “pure”. Is that really true? Can’t glacial ice have trapped impurities and gasses?

I guess what I’m getting at is, the claim that glacial ice was needed, what particular property of glacial ice can’t be replicated by careful ice making?

Glacial ice is just compacted snow so you're going to have some amount of other crap in it (hence why we use ice cores to learn about the atmosphere at the time of their formation). Glacial ice that includes whatever year some big volcano went bang is probably not going to make a very good lens.

I suspect that lab ice made with the express intention of being clean would be far cleaner.

The glacial ice is pure artistry, not something well though out. This is shown by the fact he didn't consider his iceball maker wouldn't work as fast in cold conditions.

That video is the definition of overwrought

Ha, how wonderfully cute (can't say I'd have ever thought of doing it). All he needs to do now is turn it into a multistage lens with multiple elements and invent a melt-proof quarter-wave like coating to correct the aberrations. :-)

Apropos the lens museum, I've great difficulty in chucking out lenses that no longer fit any camera that I now own. To me, lenses are precision instruments and its their 'exactness' I don't want to see escape off into a world of higher entropy.

Beautiful video! I love the idea of an ephemeral camera: custom made parts for a specific time and a specific place.


Pinhole lenses can do lots better:


It is a blog but I wouldn't say it is spam.

It doesn't just link to the content. Kottke posts are usually as entertaining and thoughtful as the content it links to.

I agree that this should be the link for the post.

You also have all the different pictures in a nice slider.

The lens is not very sharp.

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