Define Stroboscopic Motion


The term "stroboscopic motion" refers to a methodology of displaying a series of still images, giving the perception of continual motion. Stroboscopic motion has many uses in science, education, the arts and entertainment.

As natural predators, humans are drawn to objects in motion. The ability to analyze our perceptions of motion is a key contribution of the stroboscopic method. Further, the principles involved in stroboscopic motion can offer insight into human responses to visual stimulation.


  • Stroboscopic motion can be easily identified by its use of still images shown in rapid sequence with a visual interruption between each image. The succession of images are distinct and either linear or cyclical in nature. Linear sequences show images that progress from a start position moving through to an end position. As children, many of us have played with, or even made our own, flip books that show a character or object moving as we flip the pages. Cyclical sequences repeat a series of images in order to show continual movement.


  • Harold Edgerton was educated in electrical engineering and received an appointment as Institute Professor in his field at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). While researching power generators, Edgerton observed how flashes of light from mercury rectifiers (a type of direct current lighting unit) made the rotators appear to "stand still." In 1931, Edgerton described in the journal Electrical Engineering a device he called a stroboscope that would capture successive images using a stroboscopic flash. While still photography had been invented long before, Edgerton's stroboscope made high-speed flash photography possible. In 1940, Edgerton successfully engineered the first stroboscopic movie camera for MGM. The first movie filmed on Edgerton's stroboscope, "Quicker Than A Wink," won an Oscar for best short film.


  • Some of the first applications of the stroboscopic method were in the study of human and animal movement. In one famous anecdote, several wealthy gamblers used a stroboscope to settle a bet on whether a galloping horse lost all contact with the ground at any given time. The advent of motion pictures can be attributed to the stroboscopic method. Beginning in the 1940s, many research universities began to adopt the stroboscopic method for educational purposes as well as for scientific study. Also, the government used a version of the stroboscope camera late in World War II.


  • The stroboscope has evolved into a modern device, yet it still is used in many of its original forms. Modern stroboscopic devices are used in X-ray diffraction imaging, three-dimensional graphics generation and high-speed flash photography. Nevertheless, many electrical engineering, performing arts and medical students study aspects of motion using stroboscopic devices very similar to those of the 1940s.


  • Some interesting studies have been conducted on stroboscopic motion. For example, how the use of sequential light patterns can be used in hypnosis, the combination of strobing lights and images to advertise subliminally and the understanding of how certain flashing light patterns can cause some individuals to have epileptic fits.


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