Even though Wi-Fi is invisible, we know when it’s not working. Some people have even developed a bat-like sense of guessing where the signal is strongest and moving their laptops to that specific coffee shop table. But artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm wanted to know: what would Wi-Fi look like if we could see those waves pulsing the network to our computers? "I did a Google search that asked, 'What if we could see Wi-Fi?' and I couldn’t find anything, so I decided to make my own," Lamm says.
That search eventually produced these images of what Wi-Fi would look like on the National Mall, which Lamm posted on MyDeals.com. With the help of a NASA astrobiologist, Lamm used 3-D shapes taken from a Washington, D.C. government map to recreate the size and frequency of the waves. As for the NASA connection, Lamm explains that he simply put out a call for help on Craigslist. M. Browning Vogel, an astrobiology Ph.D. who worked at NASA Ames for five years, helped Lamm out.
"She provided all the details. I made sure that she approved of the images, and essentially what happened is that she guided me through the whole illustrated process to make sure they were scientifically accurate as possible," Lamm says.
Vogel explains that Wi-Fi is an energy field with a frequency shorter than radio waves but longer than microwaves. Wi-Fi waves are about three to five inches between crests, which a computer reads as "1." (The troughs of the wave are read as "0.") That information then translates into the chains of binary code that dictate the Internet. Lamm and Vogel decided to use red, orange, and yellow to show the distinct Wi-Fi channels, or segments, that make up a spherical field, which can reach 20 to 30 meters from a typical Wi-Fi box.
Wi-Fi routers can attach almost anywhere—buildings, lamp posts, trees, or anything else that allows the signal to radiate outward, Vogel writes. Trees or buildings can obstruct the waves, on the other hand, which is why multiple routers were used to create a field across the entire National Mall.
This isn’t the first time that Lamm has translated his own scientific curiosity into easily digested, and often viral, images. This past month, Lamm reconstructed a Barbie doll with "lifelike" proportions. He also recently visualized what New York City, and other cities, would look like underwater.
"Internet people like myself, they want to get the most information in the least amount of time, and I feel when you combine images with scientific research it’s really interesting," Lamm says. "I try to make images that people have never seen before. All you need is your own creativity and a new perspective on things."