Lasers Light Up New Haven’s 375th Birthday

Thomas MacMillan PhotoSome people get a few candles on a cake for their birthday. New Haven got a rainbow of super-powered lasers blazing through the sky from the top of East Rock.

But then, it’s not everyday that New Haven turns 375 years old.

That was was the case on Wednesday. So the city marked the occasion by firing up a site-specific public art piece called “Night Rainbow.”

The light sculpture sent a rainbow of seven laser beams across the sky, from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument atop East Rock southeast across town.

The piece is the work of artist Yvette Mattern, who’s mounted similar laser installations around the world. She was commissioned by New Haven organization Site Projects to bring “Night Rainbow” to New Haven for the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding.

Night Rainbow will shine for four nights, from about 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. Thick clouds on Wednesday night obscured the lasers somewhat from down below. But they shone brilliantly atop East Rock.

Manning the lights was 38-year-old George Dodworth (pictured). At 7:30 p.m., he was standing behind the fence around the base of the monument, waiting for darkness and chatting with curious park visitors.

Behind him, seven lasers were ready to go, set up on the top step of the monument, and on adjoining scaffolding.

Dodworth said he’s been working with lasers for 20 years. He’s traveled the world doing laser shows for musicians, including Madonna and Rihanna and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” tour. The company he works for, Pittsburgh’s Lightwave International, recently did the special laser effects for Tom Cruise’s new film, “Oblivion.”

He been working with Mattern for about three years, he said. The laser array for Night Rainbow sends visible lasers 100 miles through the sky, he said. “As a single piece, it would be among the most powerful in the world.”

Each of the seven lasers he had set up is the equivalent of thousands of handheld laser pointers, he said.

Night Rainbow required special clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, including a NoTAM, Dodworth said.

The lasers needs to be precisely set up to keep the beams properly spaced apart, Dodworth said. A tiny difference of angle can mean a beam is hundreds of feet out of line 10 miles out. On Tuesday, he did a test run with Mattern down in town, telling him which beams needed adjustment, Dodworth said.

Just after 8 p.m., Dodworth got the word from down below: Fire them up. He went down the line, switching on the lasers, and the sky erupted into color.

About a dozen people marveled at the sight from the top of East Rock, taking cell phone photos of the spectacle.

Down below, people on Orange Street in East Rock stopped and stared upward, taking pictures of their own, or just gawking.

Yale math professor Gregg Zuckerman (pictured) was out to take a look. The sight took him back five decades to the memory of one of his first mentors when he was a kid—a laser scientist. Zuckerman visited him in his lab and saw what he was doing with lasers and found the inspiration that led him to a lifelong career. “I became a professional mathematician, with a side interest in physics.”

Zuckerman said the lasers also reminded him of a rock show, “like the old Pink Floyd.”

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posted by: robn on April 25, 2013  8:51am

Trippy. And amazing how small those devices are. Thank you Ms Mattern for employing high powered lasers for something other than blowing something else up.

posted by: Jeff Abelli on April 25, 2013  9:38am

I am intrigued by the first photo (credited to Thomas MacMillan) - where was this taken? Great shot. I kinda want to go there tonight to see the lasers from that location.

[That photo was taken from the top of East Rock.—TM]

posted by: RichTherrn on April 25, 2013  10:44am

New Haven Schools are heavily involved with this project this week, there are lessons going on in art, science, math, literacy, social studies, and many other classes. Some of the lessons are at There was also a lecture streamed to schools yesterday, and an upcoming lecture Saturday (4pm at Coop) on the physics of rainbows.. I’ll have some hands on activities as well.
Thanks to all the teachers who are making this an exciting week for the students experiencing this phenomena!
Richard Therrien
NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: FairHavenRes on April 25, 2013  11:24am

Beautiful photos; will definitely have to check this out before it ends!

posted by: TheMadcap on April 25, 2013  12:16pm

Thankfully someone already asked and answered my question. The view you get from the top of East Rock looks spectacular, definitely going to have to give it a go.

posted by: P Christopher Ozyck on April 25, 2013  12:40pm

Reminds me of “the Bat signal”

posted by: Nathan on April 25, 2013  12:59pm

Now that our missile defense system (aka “Night Rainbow”) is fully operational, we can proceed with the other secret plans to celebrate the city’s 375th birthday - reclaiming the capital city title - without fear from the rogue city of Hartford.

posted by: TheMadcap on April 25, 2013  1:26pm

A question if anyone happens to know, does it photograph well without any time elapse?

posted by: Music Haven on April 25, 2013  3:02pm

Great photos! Thomas, the first photo must have been taken from somewhere other than the top of East Rock — it’s too far away, & the beams are separated, reaching across the city.
Did you mean to say that you were on the top of West Rock, by any chance? (in your response to reader Jeff Abelli)
We are also intrigued by that awesome photo! Thanks for sharing your fine talents.

[That photo has prompted a lot of reader confusion! I did in fact take it on top of East Rock. The lasers were beaming from behind me and projecting out over the city. They appear to converge as they recede into the distance. (They actually stay parallel for miles). In short, the lasers are moving away from my camera, not coming towards it.—TM]

posted by: robn on April 25, 2013  3:17pm

Don’t cross the streams

posted by: William Kurtz on April 25, 2013  3:28pm

Okay, that’s totally trippy. Dude. They look like they’re diverging from the source, and then converging in the distance. Perhaps some of Mr. Therrien’s NHPS scholars could report their findings on how that effect is created.

The other effect, of course, was the social one. There were about 40 people on the rainbow ride last night, and a wonderful spirit of community in the air as we rode around town, enjoying the spectacle from various vantage points, and watching everyone else watch it as well. This morning, if there was one picture of the rainbow on Facebook, there were a thousand. It’s nice to see that’s it not just mad bombers that can create that sense of shared experience. If you missed it—The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop is having another ride on Saturday. Meet in front of the shop at 8:15 for an 8:30 start; please bring helmets and lights.

Thanks, Ms. Mattern, Mr. Dodworth and the rest of the Site Projects crew. That was fun.

posted by: William Kurtz on April 25, 2013  3:32pm

And I forgot to mention: Great photos by Mr. MacMillan. I especially like the first two.

posted by: mlpavela on April 25, 2013  3:52pm

Nice photos…  even nicer than the ones taken from the $150 view in the other article!

posted by: robn on April 25, 2013  4:35pm


Thanks! You just gave me a great idea.

...and a hint for Mr. Therrien’s scholars and all of the kids at COOP, the question about this optical effect is strongly related to the last SITE Project by Felice Varini.

posted by: William Kurtz on April 25, 2013  5:00pm


Any time.

posted by: NH_Needs_HELP on April 25, 2013  8:38pm

This is great!

Aside from art we need more activities like this all of the time. The weather is nice, New Haven rocks, so we need to enjoy!

Very Pink Floyd

PUBLIC ART is cool…...BiP: I hope this inspires you further!

posted by: Jcnork on April 26, 2013  6:10am

Just a tip. If you want to try to see the lasers from the top of East Rock, don’t drive up, the police made us leave at sunset before the lasers went on.

posted by: DEZ on April 26, 2013  9:12am

We came out of Kitchen Zinc last night to a great view even downtown.  It really has created a festive atmosphere from many vantage points.  Wilbur Cross HS parking lot was buzzing with viewers, and the area of the Orange Street bridge over the Mill River offered the lasers and the moon in a 2 for 1 special.  Great job New Haven!

posted by: mixta007 on April 26, 2013  12:54pm

What time do the lights come on? I heard it was at dusk but when I was out last night at 8:15 I could not see them. Thanks!

posted by: FairHavenRes on April 26, 2013  1:47pm

Jcnork, thanks for that very helpful tip; I never would have thought of the sunset issue with East Rock!  That’s really annoying if you have people who want to view it from there but can’t possibly walk that far.  Does anyone have other good vantage point suggestions?  Thanks!

posted by: robn on April 26, 2013  1:59pm


Is that closed to cars or closed period?

posted by: Jcnork on April 26, 2013  2:08pm

robn & FairHavenRes, we ended up getting a pretty good view from Wilbur Cross High School. I think that people who hiked up to the top of East Rock were able to stay, but I’m not sure since we had to leave…

posted by: TheMadcap on April 26, 2013  4:13pm

I would assume it’s de facto just the cars since they really have no way to enforce anything with people hiking, walking or on a bike. I take it they don’t want cars going down that narrow road at night, especially since hikers may still be going down it or across it.