Gallery: Solar-Powered Machine Creates Rainbows From Recycled Rainwater

The Rainbow Project uses a series of high-powered jet pumps and custom fountain nozzles to spray water into the air, creating the conditions needed for a rainbow to appear.

McKean, a former resident at the Bemis Center and now a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, has been conducting tests on rainbow creation since 2002. The Bemis Center commissioned McKean to perform this site-specific installation at their facility this summer in hopes of capturing the public’s imagination and engaging the center in wide-ranging conversations with communities throughout Omaha.

The Rainbow Project uses a series of high-powered jet pumps and custom fountain nozzles to spray water into the air, creating the conditions needed for a rainbow to appear. The commercial irrigation equipment is timed in order to create a dense wall of water that mimics a rainstorm, and the sun does the rest of the work.

All of the water used to create McKean’s rainbows is recycled rainwater, which is collected and stored in tanks at the base of each project. At the Bemis Center, rainwater will be collected from the roof of the center, and a customized rooftop downspout system will allow the harvested water to be recycled after it plays its part in the rainbow creation. Additionally, a solar system will be used to generate the power necessary to spray the water. So, in the end, the rainbow is created using only rainwater and sunlight — just like real rainbows.

McKean’s work amplifies “the placeless, celebratory, seductive and elusive qualities of the spectacular event of the rainbow”. Starting in June, visitors to downtown Omaha will be able to see a rainbow hovering over the Bemis Center twice a day for up to 20 minutes at a time. Depending on the angle of the sun, amount of sunlight, atmospheric conditions, and other factors, each rainbow will have different qualities and characteristics. Visitors may be able so see them up to 1,000 ft away or even be able to walk through them. This June we may be able to confirm whether or not there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

+ Michael Jones McKean

Images © Michael Jones McKean


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  1. Isle of Ideas January 13, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    The Rainbow Machine…

    Oh. My. God. It’s a rainbow machine! And it’s making real rainbows! Artist Michael Jones McKean creates real rainbows – with his awesome solar-powered machine using recycled rainwater! Certain climatic conditions are generally required in the creatio…

  2. ka-pow January 13, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    This brilliant! A pot of gold at every rainbow! This man made the proverbial money tree!

    Pot o’ Gold – 9yrs of NRE – pumping costs = PROFIT!!!!!

  3. hacky97 January 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Do this on top of a tall building and you will have a circular rainbow!

  4. lordelisah December 23, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    It’s actually another good idea, just like its been perfecly artistic when human imitiates nature’s beaties throughout history..
    Especially in a time urban life transforms itself into nightmares because of the various pollution types, these impressive visual ornaments make urban much bearable, even beautiful!
    In conclusion, bravo McKean and others helping him…

  5. juxtaposer December 22, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    It is good.
    Those rainbows serve to remind one of the beautiful creation
    seen in nature, and they are displayed using both power and
    water supplied through natural sources rather than expending
    natural resources. Rainbows are remarkable when understood
    and when unexplained.

  6. cultura December 22, 2010 at 5:10 pm


    Of all the talented people with brilliant ideas in need of investment and/or promotion, we now are in need of fake rainbows??? Its not even funny, this is a disgrace.

  7. Bahamut December 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Get two of these babies and turn them on side by side and prepare for the most intense OMG experience of your life.

  8. doublerainbowguy December 21, 2010 at 1:09 am

    Whoah! Can he make a double rainbow?!

  9. ArchemyDesign December 20, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    What does this mean?

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