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Don’t Be SAD; the U of M’s Winter Light Show is Here to Help Cheer You Up

College of Science and Engineering

As the sun shines in increasingly small amounts (thanks, winter!), Minnesotans tend to seek out something — anything — luminous to chase away the seasonal doldrums. Thankfully, the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering has a bright and cheery cure for the gloom — the CSE Winter Light Show presented by Tesla Works.

Boasting more than 250,000 LED lights, 3D snowmen signs, lighted arches, and more cheer than you’ll know what to do with, the show promises winter dazzle that’s sure to make any heart grow at least three sizes. We chatted with Chris Walaszek, a sophomore studying computer science and the layout manager for the show, about the planning and presentation behind the spectacle. Unsurprisingly, it involves a bit more than finding that one. annoying. bulb. that renders an entire string useless. When did the group start initially planning the light show?

Chris Walaszek: Each year we begin planning for the light show almost right away at the start of the semester in early September. Where do you get all of the materials for the show?

CW: Since the light show is a yearly event, we have most of the materials already from past years. Most of the light elements, like the snowmen and pixelated signs, are already made, and we just have to take them out of storage. If we do need new materials, we usually get them from a hardware store or, in the case of lights and extension cords, order online. What’s the process of automating the lights and music?

CW: We use a combination of software and hardware, all developed over the years in house by the light show team. Our software takes in a light sequence planned in a third-party sequencing software and sends the relevant data through DMX cables to our hardware. Our hardware consists of 30 electronic boards that take in that data and send the signal to each light strand to turn on or off in time with the music. Speaking of music, what can people expect to hear?

CW: All the music was composed by students in the College of Science and Engineering. We have five songs totaling about 20 minutes that will be in the show this year. What was the biggest challenge in putting the show together?

CW: For me, the biggest challenge in putting the show together was balancing working on the show with my college classes. I had to really refine my time-management skills to make sure I got everything done in time, and I think being the layout manager for this show helped me effectively handle larger workloads. What are you most excited for people to see?

Our new light elements. This year, we’ve added snowflakes, 3D snowmen, and circular “tubes” colored maroon and gold which add even more color to the show.


The CSE Winter Light Show, sponsored by Polaris with additional funding by the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering Student Services and the University of Minnesota Parent and Family Program, is free and open to the public. Catch it on the Civil Engineering Building Courtyard (500 Pillsbury Dr. S.E.) at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 5, 6, 7, and 14. You can also join the crew for a Premiere Party on Dec. 6 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the WSB and Rosene Student Lounges on the second floor of the Civil Engineering Building. The shindig will feature free hot chocolate and cookies (while supplies last), and we strongly recommend offering your condolences to any of the students tasked with cleaning up an estimated five miles of lights and extension cords.

Alex Skjong
Alex oversees the content produced for BETA, Twin Cities Startup Week, and When he’s not writing or editing, there’s a good chance he’s enjoying a refreshing brew and explaining the merits of heavy metal (of which there are many).