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New Mirrors on Campanile Redefine Cal Motto, 'Fiat Lux'

The UC Berkeley motto "Fiat Lux" – or "Let there be light" – has taken on new meaning with a precision-rotated mirror array on the campus' landmark Campanile. You can schedule a personally aimed beam of reflected sunlight online.

The computer-controlled "Solar Beacon" installed on the University of California at Berkeley Campanile tower in September 2013 can be aimed by members of the public online. Photo credit: John Vallerga
The computer-controlled "Solar Beacon" installed on the University of California at Berkeley Campanile tower in September 2013 can be aimed by members of the public online. Photo credit: John Vallerga
The iconic Campanile at UC Berkeley has a shiny new jewel in its crown – a sun reflector that members of the public can aim by computer request.

The "Solar Beacon," installed early this month on top of the famous 307-foot bell tower, can be aimed anywhere west or south of the Campanile within view of the structure, except for the campus itself (where the light would be too bright), according to a campus news release.

You can make an appointment for a personally aimed solar beam lasting three or four minutes on the Solar Beacon website.

The mirrors are not visible from ground level on campus, according to the release.

The Solar Beacon was previously installed on the Golden Gate Bridge last year as part of the bridge's 75th anniversary activities.

The reflector is part of an art project by John Vallerga, a research physicist who designs spacecraft instruments at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, who was inspired by "the many reflections he saw throughout the day from his laboratory perch high above the Bay Area," the campus said. 

“Solar Beacon calls attention to sunlight and reflected light in people’s lives,” Vallerga said in comments quoted by the campus release.

“Plus, the idea that you can control a beam remotely is fun. When I talk to people, they get really excited by the fact that they can make an appointment for something far away and have it respond to them. They tell friends to watch the tower and it lights up at a specific time.”

The Solar Beacon consists of two solar "heliostats," each of which is a panel of four six-inch-square mirrors.

Villarga conceived of the idea with London-based artist Liliane Lijn, the campus said.

Villarga's collaborators are "UC Berkeley physicists Pat Jelinsky and Laura Peticolas; detector scientists Jason McPhate and Adrian Martin; mechanical engineers Greg Dalton, Joe Tedesco, Chris Scholz and Greg Johnson; system administrator Robert Lettieri; and science educators Ruth Paglierani, Dan Zevin and Kyle Fricke," according to the campus.

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