Holograms Turn Traditional Candy Into Edible Art

Laser technology puts 3-D images on lollipops and chocolates

An image of the solar system floats by on your chocolate bar as you take a bite. Light shimmers off pieces of chocolate resembling stained-glass windows. Captain Picard from "Star Trek" hovers inside your sucker.

Thanks to some fancy laser work at LightVision Confections in Boston, traditional candy is getting a whole new "holographic" look.

The company is making holograms - the three-dimensional images often seen on credit cards and novelty items - edible by transferring them to food. LightVision has experimented with everything from sushi to graham crackers while developing its technique.

"Seaweed provides a great surface for an image," says Eric Begleiter, the company's founder. But candy is the only holographic product LightVision is marketing at the moment. Its candies, which will sell in museum and specialty shops starting in July, are imprinted with an assortment of life-like, three-dimensional images, including dinosaurs, endangered species, and "Star Trek" icons.

Because a hologram is created by manipulating light, the design has no effect on the candy's taste or texture. Light has a natural tendency to bend when it hits a scratched or grooved surface. Mr. Begleiter takes advantage of this behavior. "We scratch the surface of the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary underneath," he says.

To make the holograms, the beam from a laser is split in two. One portion of the beam reflects off an object, such as a model of the Starship Enterprise, to a piece of film. The other one is focused onto the film where it intersects with the first. The result is a pattern of fine lines or ripples at the point they intersect.

"This is much like the wavy pattern created when you take two window screens and lay them on top of each other," Begleiter says. The lines act like little prisms, each bending the light in a different direction, creating both color and a 3-D effect.

After producing the first hologram, a second is developed, reducing the amount of information (or lines) in the image that makes the picture appear fuzzy in white light. Extra lines not needed for the human eye to recognize depth are then removed. This is similar to the effect of a ViewMaster, or the red-and-blue filter glasses people wear to watch 3-D movies.

Exposing the new image on a high-resolution film converts all the lines of the hologram into minute, precise ridges like those on a potato chip, though much smaller. When this is impressed onto the candy, an image that has color and appears to have depth is created when exposed to light. The holographic figures appear to float above or below the surface, but the candy's texture, like its taste, remains the same.

Originally Begleiter tried to interest major food manufacturers in his patented "holo-food" method. But because many were skeptical, he decided to form his own company.

LightVision, the only producer of these unique confections, is now experimenting with "visualizing flavors" - a lemon inside a lemon drop for example, or a field of strawberries inside a strawberry-flavored lollipop. Begleiter is also considering animated multiple-layered candy, where the scene would change as individual layers dissolved. More information is found at the company's Web site (www.lightvision.com).

Its confections, which will feature hard candies at first and later chocolates, range in price from $15.95 for a set of four "Star Trek" holo-pops to $1.50 for a single sucker.

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