Mirage® Mania in the Media

Kentucky_Courier-Mirages_StoryMirage relies on light to create optical illusion

It’s amusing to see most people’s reaction of the desktop optical illusion known as Mirage.

At first, they reach out to touch the illusion. But when their fingers pass through the image, they jerk back quickly, as though they’ve been burned.

Then, with the sheepish expression of one who has been fooled, they demand to know the secret.

Though it has been on the market for 15 years, the Mirage continues to prompt a head-scratching curiosity among those encountering it for the first time.

I’ve seen pictures of the Mirage in publications like the Edmund Scientific catalog, but one-dimensional photography doesn’t convey what is a startling effect.

The device resembles two automobile headlight reflectors stacked nose to nose with a hole in the center. It’s also been described as looking like a covered wok.

Most anything small and flat – coins, a paper clip, a breath mint, that kind of thing – placed at the base of the hole seems to float magically in midair above the Mirage’s concave surface.

The effect can’t be seen at every angle. But when the right angle is found, the effect is viewable from 360 degrees.

The Mirage’s magic is an example of “real imagery” in which light rays reflected inside precisely ground concave mirrors cross to create something that isn’t really there.

A professor at Ventura College in California has used the mirage as an example of the practical application of mathematics.

“This is an effect that doesn’t occur naturally. It’s a peculiar facet of optics that is rarely encountered,” said Michael Levin of Chatsworth, Calif.

Levin’s company, Opti-Gone International, makes and sells the Mirage, which was discovered by accident several years ago.

“It’s been a difficult product to manufacture, and sales have had their ups and downs,” he said. “But this is the best year we’ve ever had, since it’s our first year for breaking into the market in Japan, where people are crazy about this thing.”

Levin said that a janitor working in a storeroom in the physics department at the University of California in Santa Barbara was cleaning around a stack of search-light reflectors when he noticed something strange: The “dust” he was dusting around the reflectors wasn’t there.

The janitor summoned a nearby physics professor.

“One thing led to another, and the professor decided to go into business, making these things in partnership with the maintenance man,” Levin said. “They had a factory that made them from glass.”

Levin eventually learned of the product, bought the rights to it, changed the glass parts to acrylics, and now owns the patent.

Levin has been told that President Bush has been among Mirage buyers.

“He supposedly bought one from Al’s Magic Shop in Washington, D.C., back in the 1980s as a present for then-President Reagan, and I’m told it sat on his desk in the Oval Officer for a time,” Levin said.

The biggest Mirage was custom-built by Levin’s company for an effect in a pavilion display at Disneyland in California. He builds the giant models by special order, mostly for museums and trade show applications.

Mirage is sold directly from the distributor for $45, which includes shipping.

LEXINGTON-HERALD-LEADER

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The new President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, enjoying the magic illusion of Mirage®.

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