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A photobook exploring one of the world's most powerful lasers by Robert Shults in collaboration with science fiction author Rudy Rucker
A photobook exploring one of the world's most powerful lasers by Robert Shults in collaboration with science fiction author Rudy Rucker
131 backers pledged $23,841 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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The Project

In a cavernous complex buried three stories beneath The University of Texas, there resides an almost inconceivable piece of technology which invokes some of the most extreme conditions ever encountered by mankind.

It is called the Texas Petawatt and, at the time of this project, it produced the most powerful laser pulse anywhere in the world.

With a peak output nearly 2000 times greater than the entire U.S. electrical grid, this massive device releases an unparalleled luminous force which constitutes the brightest light known to exist in the entire universe. With this intensely focused beam, an elite company of scientists produces the sort of dense matter found at the center of stars and recreate the conditions of planetary cores. They observe the blastwaves of scale supernovae and chart how such forces form galaxies in their wake. They rend electrons from their atoms, generating the very same fusion reactions that power our sun.

And all of this occurs in a flash of brilliance briefer than any other event in human history.

To the layperson, the site of these controlled cataclysms is a rarefied, mysterious place, accessible only in fleeting fragments of comprehension, and one could easily be forgiven if they were to mistake so advanced a technology for magic.

“The Superlative Light”, to be published in Fall 2014 by Daylight Books, draws upon the conventions of “grade – B” science fiction cinema, recasting real working scientists as the heroes of an imaginary epic and presenting an interloper's awe-struck experience of a seemingly sacred space where a brilliant but mortal group of men and women perform work normally reserved for the gods.

The publication of this book represents the culmination of an auspicious year for the Texas Petawatt Project, following the recent feature of these photographs by The New York Times, as well as important experimental breakthroughs utilizing the laser for particle acceleration

You may view the entire body of work by clicking here.

The Book

In lieu of a traditional essay, “The Superlative Light” features an original science fiction story, inspired by the photographs, from award-winning author and mathematician Rudy Rucker. Dr. Rucker's academia-themed work augments the photos' dual modes as components of both fictional and documentary narratives with his transrealist literary style, itself a blend of the fantastic and autobiographical.

This book also includes a scientific introduction by Dr. Todd Ditmire, director of the Center for High Energy Density Science and chief developer of the Texas Petawatt.

“The Superlative Light” hardcover book is 8 x 9 inches with 96 pages and 40 duotone images. Additionally, each book includes a unique bookmark made from specialized laser “burn paper” with an image etched directly onto its surface by the Texas Petawatt, in the manner demonstrated by Dr. Gaul in the video above.

Your generous contribution will provide the finishing funds necessary for the manufacture of this book. The listed funding goal represents approximately one third of this volume's total production and printing costs.

The Publisher

Daylight is a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing art and photography books. By exploring the documentary mode along with the more conceptual concerns of fine-art, Daylight’s uniquely collectible publications work to revitalize the relationship between art, photography, and the world-at-large.

More information about Daylight's community arts programs can be found here. Daylight receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Contributors

Robert Shults studied photography on location in Central America with Barbara McClatchie Andrews, and has traveled and photographed extensively throughout Latin America, Europe, and the United States. His work has been included in exhibitions at The Print Center, Coastal Arts League Museum, and The Camera Club of New York. He is a 2008 recipient of the Prix de la Photographie - Paris as well as a B&W Magazine Merit Award, and his publication credits include Austin Monthly, The Austin Chronicle, and The New York Times. From 2007 to 2010, he taught photography at the University of Texas at Austin, as part of the Informal Classes program.

Rudy Rucker received his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Swarthmore College and earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Rutgers University. In the course of a three-decade academic career, he taught at SUNY Geneseo, Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg, Randolph-Macon Women's College, and San Jose State University. Rucker is regarded as a contemporary master of science fiction and one of the founders of the cyberpunk literary movement. He has received the Philip K. Dick award twice. His 37 published books include the novels of “The Ware Tetralogy” and non-fiction books on the fourth dimension, infinity, and computation.

Todd Ditmire earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in physics and art history and received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Davis. He is currently a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is director of the Center for High Energy Density Science and the Texas Petawatt Project. He was previously a staff scientist and project leader at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The interior of a main disc amplifier on the Texas Petawatt Laser. A special limited-edition 12x18" silver gelatin print of this image on fiber-based paper is available only through Kickstarter with a contribution of $1000 or more.
The interior of a main disc amplifier on the Texas Petawatt Laser. A special limited-edition 12x18" silver gelatin print of this image on fiber-based paper is available only through Kickstarter with a contribution of $1000 or more.
This view of the Texas Petawatt "pump laser" is available as a limited-edition digital c-print only to Kickstarter backers who pledge $450 or more.
This view of the Texas Petawatt "pump laser" is available as a limited-edition digital c-print only to Kickstarter backers who pledge $450 or more.

Risks and challenges

All photography and darkroom work for this project has been completed, only production of the physical book remains. Any deficit in funding will result in a delay in the book's Fall 2014 release date. This book is currently under contract for publication, and, as such, will be available in the marketplace once all funding is in place.

Please remember that Kickstarter functions on an "all or nothing" model. Should this project fail to reach its goal, no money will be distributed from this campaign, necessitating reliance on traditional protracted grant funding.

This makes your contribution doubly important. Please click on the green button to back this project today, and thank you deeply for your support.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $15 or more About $15

    A personal thank you note inscribed on a signed 4x6" silver gelatin print of an image from the book.

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    A personal thank you note inscribed on a signed 6x9" silver gelatin print of an image from the book.

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    A signed copy of "The Superlative Light".

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    A signed copy of "The Superlative Light" plus a signed 8x12" silver gelatin print of an image from the book.

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    Pledge $125 or more About $125

    A signed copy of "The Superlative Light", a signed 10x15" silver gelatin print of an image from the book, and a mention on the acknowledgments page.

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    Pledge $200 or more About $200

    A signed copy of "The Superlative Light", a signed 12x18" silver gelatin print of an image of your choice from the book, and a special mention on the acknowledgments page.

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    Pledge $300 or more About $300

    A copy of "The Superlative Light" signed by Robert Shults and Todd Ditmire plus a signed 12x18" silver gelatin print of an image of your choice from the book. You will also receive a signed, numbered limited-edition DVD of "A Revision of Winter", an experimental science fiction film featuring images from the project. Backers at this level will garner a special mention on the acknowledgments page.

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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $450 or more About $450

    A copy of "The Superlative Light" signed by Robert Shults, Rudy Rucker, and Todd Ditmire plus a signed 12x18" silver gelatin print of an image of your choice from the book. You will also receive a signed, numbered limited-edition DVD of "A Revision of Winter", an experimental science fiction film featuring images from the project.
    Backers at this level will garner a special mention on the acknowledgments page in addition to a signed, numbered limited-edition 8x12" digital c-print of an image from the extended body of work and available only through Kickstarter.

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    A copy of "The Superlative Light" signed by Robert Shults, Rudy Rucker, and Todd Ditmire plus a signed, numbered limited-edition 12x18" silver gelatin print of an image from the book. This hand-processed fiber print is available only to Kickstarter backers. You will also receive a signed, numbered limited-edition DVD of "A Revision of Winter", an experimental science fiction film featuring images from the project. Backers at this level will also garner a very special mention on the acknowledgments page in addition to a signed, numbered limited-edition 8x12" digital c-print of an image from the extended body of work.

    All five backers at this level will also enjoy a 30 minute personal tour of the Texas Petawatt Laser facility with Robert Shults and a project scientist.

    Please note that travel accommodations to Austin are not included.

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    Pledge $3,000 or more About $3,000

    One special backer will receive everything from the $1000 level PLUS a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually fire the Texas Petawatt Laser. During a regularly scheduled experimental campaign, you will accompany a project scientist in securing the facility, announcing the countdown sequence, and initiating a full-power system shot on one of the most unique research devices ever developed. Please note that travel accommodations to Austin are not included; subject to laser availability.

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Funding period

- (30 days)