Popular at Public Lab

Out in Zone 5, Liz Barry of Public Lab is sensing strong interest in spectrometry.

The reason: “It’s like a Tricorder for $10!”


Liz Barry of Public Lab

The Public Lab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns.

Using inexpensive DIY techniques, Public Labs seeks to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.

And a good place to start: spectrometry.

“Because you can use it to tell what things are made of,” Liz says.


The desktop spectrometer from Public Lab

Get out to Zone 5 and check it out!

Made in Space 3D Printer Launches Tomorrow Morning

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The first 3D printer in space is scheduled to launch on Saturday, September 20 at 2:16 a.m. (Eastern) aboard the SpaceX-4 Commercial Resupply Mission. The 3D printer, manufactured by Made In Space , will serve as a technology demonstration for the use of an FDM style printer on the International Space Station (ISS) and future spacecraft. The goal is to give astronauts the ability to quickly and cheaply manufacture parts on demand.

The Made In Space Portal 3D printer has a build volume of 50mm X 100mm X 50mm and will be ABS only. A second model, contracted for the International Space Station in 2015, will support multiple materials and a larger build volume. Many of the features of the Made In Space Portal can be found on current consumer 3D printers including an enclosed build volume with polycarbonate windows, remote video monitoring, and remote printing (via ground control). However, printing in space requires an extra level of features such as ruggedization to survive launch, thermal management, air filtration and optimization for printing in microgravity. The Made in Space team has flown over 400 microgravity parabolas and conducted 30,000 hours of testing in preparing the Portal for launch.

The Portal will integrate into the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) on the International Space Station. The MSG will provide a 28V DC power and 200W cooling capacity. Astronauts will have access to remove prints and change filament cartridges as well as perform maintenance tasks such as replacing a clogged print head or the electronics. More details about the mission can be found on the NASA 3D Printing In Zero-G experiment page.

The printer itself fall under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) so the Portal was unavailable for hands on testing in the Make 2015 3D Printer Shootout.


Makers can participate in the mission by suggesting models to 3D print in space by tweeting their ideas using the #BeamItUp hashtag.

A STEM program sponsored by ASME and NASA called Future Engineers will kick off in a week or two with CAD tutorials and challenges for K12 students. Students will have the opportunity to design parts and tools for space with one student design being 3D printed on ISS.

The CityX Project is another STEM based project focused on design that challenges students 8-12 to use 3D printing to meet the needs of alien civilizations. A design by a 9 year old City X participant is also planned for printing aboard the ISS.


The Portal won’t begin printing right away as other experiments are in line ahead of the 3D printer. We look forward to learning more details about the mission in the coming months.

Why Do Dead Alkaline Batteries Bounce?


If you’ve ever wondered what retired old men (I’d assume some of them are or were engineers, scientists, or science teachers) do when they’re not annoying their wives, apparently some of them go out to eat with the Romeo club (the video will explain). Lee Hite, one of the members, apparently also makes incredibly popular Youtube videos. The one below came from a discussion as to why good alkaline batteries don’t bounce, while bad batteries of this type do.

Admittedly, I’d never noticed this phenomena, but if you’re skeptical, the extremely good experimental setup in the video should be pretty convincing. Basically, a stand is set up where several batteries are dropped from the same height. The bad batteries bounce, while those that are still good definitely do not.

These self-proclaimed “old men” had two general theories on this, one was that the batteries were outgassing, thus affecting the way they bounced. The other idea was the idea that the good batteries were exhibiting something they referred to as “anti-bounce.” You may be more familiar with this as the same principle behind a dead blow hammer.

The results are closer to the second option, but check out the video below to see the explanation. This kind of setup would probably make an excellent science-fair project, or you could tuck it away for when you’re older and need to win the inevitable argument about why batteries bounce!

Fueled by Coke Zero, Mentos, and Science!

Many people have tried a fun backyard experiment where you drop some Mentos candies into a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke or Coke Zero. If you have not seen this, here’s a spoiler: you get a giant geyser of soda. Since they first learned about it in 2005, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz of EepyBird have taken this simple experiment and elevated into performance art. Together Fritz and Stephen have performed their crazy soda experiments all over the world and on television, thrilling audiences and expending about 10,000 bottles of soda and over 60,000 Mentos.

EepyBird’s creativity doesn’t stop at soda geysers. Check their YouTube channel for cool science videos, extreme experiments with Sticky Notes, and of course, more fun with Coke and Mentos.


Maker Faire has been thrilled to have EepyBird perform their Coke and Mentos magic at Maker Faire. The feeling seems to be mutual. The EepyBird website says, “If you haven’t been to Maker Faire, you must go! It is the coolest event on the planet, and we’ve had a ton of fun doing Coke and Mentos shows there over the last few years.” Come see them at World Maker Faire in New York this September. Bring your curiosity, a sense of humor and maybe get inspired to do some creative experimenting at home.

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Boom! You’ve Got Cereal!

What’s your favorite puffed cereal? Ever wonder how it was made? You probably wouldn’t guess that for decades it was made by loading it into a huge metal cannon and subjecting it to heat and pressure until it was suddenly released with a thunderous BOOM! However, that’s pretty much exactly the way it was done. Newer methods work on a more continuous process, not requiring the batch and explode system seen in the video above, but what fun is that?

The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) obtained this 3,200 lbs monster of a food processor, and have been experimenting with puffing various types of grains. Puffing cereal is kind of like popping corn. Except that many grains don’t have the hard shells of corn kernels. This is where puffing guns come in. Inside one of these messy mortars, grains are heated and pressurized within a chamber that does the same thing as a kernel shell… holds everything in until it is suddenly released. This results in the yummy exploded puffs that we are all familiar with.


According to MOFAD’s website, they aspire “to become the global leader for food education: visitors will learn about the culture, history, science, production, and commerce of food and drink through exhibits and programs that emphasize sensory engagement.” I guess if you are trying to draw attention to how food is produced, bringing a giant puffing cannon to World Maker Faire in New York is a good way to go. They’ll be firing the puffing gun several times an hour, so I’m sure they will be hard to miss!

First test of BOOM! by the staff at MOFAD. Cereal everywhere.

First test of BOOM! by the staff at MOFAD. Cereal everywhere.

You can learn more about the MOFAD and BOOM! at their website.

What Goes Up Must Glide Down

Ever since Rick Schertle’s original Compressed Air Rocket Launcher project appeared on the pages of Make:, it has been a hugely popular build for people everywhere. I helped my son and his friend build one for their 3rd grade science fair project, and it was a huge hit. We still use it today, when it’s not on loan to our local children’s museum.

“We first brought the air rockets to World Maker Faire New York last year and had no idea how popular they would be,” Rick said. “New Yorkers apparently love rockets as much as folks in California! We’re excited to be back this year ready to build and launch rockets by the thousands in the Fly Zone.”

Although watching the original paper air rockets blast 200-300 feet in the air and then come barreling straight down is fun, recently Rick has collaborated with Keith Violette to add a whole new dimension… wings!

Inspired by a decades-old catapult launched folding wing glider toy, Rick and Keith have come up with the Air Rocket Glider, which launches up, deploys its wings, and then glides down. The Air Rocket Glider project was featured in Make: Volume 39. They’ve also launched a successful Kickstarter for the new version 2.0 of their launcher and the Air Rocket Glider kit.


The Air Rocket Works team will be at World Maker Faire in New York this September showing off the Air Rocket Glider and the all new Compressed Air Rocket launcher v2.0. They will have several units that people can test launch in the Fly Zone. Although I haven’t seen the new glider in person yet, it looks even more fun than the original. You can also build and launch your own paper rocket to keep. So come on out and play!

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Rick and Keith have established the Air Rocket Works website. Check it out to learn more about their innovations in compressed air rocketry.

Alchemy and Artistry

Colors for these paints come from natural materials.

Colors for these paints come from natural materials.

Our computers and smartphones would not operate without the materials science that developed silicon-based integrated circuits. One way or another, chemistry underlies just about everything we do. The roots of chemistry stretch back to people’s early attempts to understand and manipulate the materials around them through the study and practice of alchemy.

Today we tend to be a step removed from the materials that make up the finished products we use. Patricia Miranda of Alchemical Tech wants to put you back in touch with the way natural materials are turned into the tools we use to create art and technology.


Patricia will be at World Maker Faire in New York later this month showing people how to turn materials like stones, bugs and flowers into colorful pigments. She will have lots of natural materials on hand to show the sources of colors. Visitors can use the paint that is made from these colors to create their own art while gaining a deeper understanding of the world around them. Come experience a bit of the science people have used through the centuries to add color to our world.

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You can learn more about Patricia’s work at her website, or visit her Facebook page.

Engineers Day 2014 at the Museum of Life and Science

The Museum of Life and Science in Durham NC, Host to Engineers Day 2014

The Museum of Life and Science in Durham NC, Host to Engineers Day 2014

On Saturday August 16th nearly two thousand people (mostly families with young children) came to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham North Carolina to attend the annual “Engineers Day” event. Every year the museum hosts a day of hands-on activities and workshops that promote the profession of engineering.


Engineers Day is reminiscent of a Mini Maker Faire including hands-on experiences, 3D printing, FIRST Robotics teams, unmanned aerial photography, Lego Robotics Workshops, and lessons in upcycling and recycling by building treasure from electronic trash. This year’s event was sponsored by CISCO and IBM who helped bring in tons of volunteers to teach and to help people with the hands-on exhibits. I was there as “Harris Educational” to let folks get hands-on experience troubleshooting a typical electric vehicle circuit with my new EV Challenge Troubleshooting Simulator. I also demonstrated my Reinventing Science Kits.

The EV Challenge Troubleshooting Simulator

The EV Challenge Troubleshooting Simulator. Made in the USA by Harris Educational

The museum itself served as an inspiring backdrop for all of the activity of Engineers Day. The Museum of Life and Science is an excellent hands-on museum with a really good blend of hands-on self-paced educational exhibits, workshop/lab/outdoor space, and amazing static exhibits including artifacts from the space race on permanent loan from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. I can still remember visiting this museum after a two hour activity bus ride when I was in elementary school and being in total awe of their REAL Lunar Module (LM)!

Real Lunar Module (LM) at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham NC

Real Lunar Module (LM) at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham NC

My own exhibit for Engineers Day was adjacent to two very popular exhibits. The first was called Pop Locks. Pop Locks are modular paper construction toys that can be used to make all kinds of 2D and 3D creations. Pop Locks were created by Josh Buczynski a member of SplatSpace a maker space in downtown Durham NC. Josh sells maker-made Paper Poseables Pop Locks kits and materials through his website, but also offers up the designs as free downloads that can be printed and cut out on your own construction paper. Josh also hosts photos of people’s Pop Locks creations. He even has a mini “photo booth” that he brings to events like Engineers Day and to Maker Faire events so that folks can take and post their photos on the fly.

Paper Poseables Pop Locks (Created and Made in North Carolina)

Paper Poseables Pop Locks (Created and Made in North Carolina)

The second cool exhibit near me was titled “Engineering with Evolution” by Museum of Life and Science Exhibits Engineer Peter Reintjes. By day Peter designs and creates amazing educational hands-on exhibits for the Museum. In his own time he’s experimenting with using E. coli bacteria as organic computers to process DNA using home-made biochemical reactor equipment built out of scrap materials that he’s found at The Scrap Exchange, a local reuse and recycling facility. Peter has coined the notion of Moore’s Law ++ comparing the cost of information processing as it scales from Desktop PC to Raspberry Pi to Arduino to PIC Micro Controller down to DNA Processing with E. coli cells. Peter is also a member of SplatSpace and is a frequent exhibitor at Maker Faire North Carolina and the Burlington Mini Maker Faire.

Moore's Law ++ (by NC Maker Peter Reintjes)

Moore’s Law ++ (by NC Maker Peter Reintjes)

"Engineering with Evolution" DNA Computation Apparatus (made from Scrap and Recycled Materials)

“Engineering with Evolution” DNA Computation Apparatus (made from Scrap and Recycled Materials)

Engineers Day 2014 was a great success and I’m looking forward to coming back in 2015! Thank you to the Museum of Life and Science for hosting Harris Educational for this cool educational event. See photos from Engineers Day 2014 Here.

We Make Health Fest recap

The We Make Health Fest took place on Saturday 8/16. The fest was hosted by the University of Michigan and encouraged creation of technology that could change how we stay healthy. Speakers from the community presented on many exciting topics and below you’ll find some of the exciting ideas that makers had to share.

e-NABLE showed off low cost 3D printed prostheses which can be manufactured for much less than the cost of commercial prosthetic solutions. They are focused on sharing information about the maker movement effort to produce a low cost prosthetic hand.

3D-printed prostheses by e-NABLE

3D-printed prostheses by e-NABLE

Akadeum Life Sciences demonstrated technology to isolate samples of cells at a high purity rate. By coating specifically targeted cells, their glass micro-bubbles can attach to the cells and float them to the surface of a solution. The technology has applications for food pathogen testing and purifying cell samples.

This type of purification is often done using Fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). FACS separates cells into different containers by examining cells one by one. It does this by first placing a cell in individual droplets of a liquid. The fluorescence characteristic of each droplet are measured and based on this measurement, the system decides how to sort the cell. The actual sorting is done using electromagnets.

Akadeum’s solution allows for sorting many cells quickly in a low cost manner.

Brandon McNaughton demonstrates the ease of using Akadeum's cell isolation process.

Brandon McNaughton demonstrates the ease of using Akadeum’s cell isolation process.

Researchers with the University of Michigan School of Public Health developed IconArray.com as an easy way for clinicians to visualize risk in a standard way.

UM researchers have published multiple articles demonstrating that icon arrays (“pictographs”) are more effective than bar or pie charts at communicating risk and reducing cognitive biases in risk perceptions.

You can read more about the development and existing uses of of IconArray here.


Gary Olthoff demonstrated his invention to ease carrying of mattresses. When his father was placed in a nursing home, Gary observed frequent moving of mattresses would cause injuries to staff. The staff had difficulty maneuvering the unwieldy objects and the task required two people to complete safely. His original solution was built from a lawn mower handle and was well liked by staff at several facilities where it was on loan. After several iterations on the design, he prepared a commercial version called the EZCarryBed Mattress Carrier. The device allows a single person to easily hold and move the mattresses.

EZCarryBed Mattress Carrier

EZCarryBed Mattress Carrier

Duane Mackey showed off his DIY Mosquito trap. The traps started as a science fair project after he was inspired by Gates Foundation’s work to prevent the spread of Malaria. He set out to build a better mosquito trap and after several iterations has designs that performed better than commercial solutions during tests. He plans to make the designs freely available at openmosquitotrap.org (Note: At time of publication this link was not functional).

Iterations on an open source mosquito trap design.

Iterations on an open source mosquito trap design.

Did you make it out to the festival? Let us know what technology caught your eye in the comments below!

More photos:

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Life’s Lessons From the Maker’s Bill of Rights


As most of you are probably aware, the Maker’s Bill of Rights is a manifesto for those who want the freedom to tinker with, remake, repair, recombine, and upgrade the things they own. Published by Make: in 2005, it articulates a list of 17 commandments that manufacturers should follow to make their products repairable and hackable.

When I started writing this series last year, Gretchen Hooker of the Biomimicry Institute and I began an interesting conversation about the Maker’s Bill of Rights and what it has in common with biomimicry and a set of biomimetic sustainable design guidelines called Life’s Principles. We’ve been mulling over these ideas for a few months and thought now would be a good time to share them with you.

First of all, we find thhownature_frog_make02e Maker’s Bill of Rights interesting because it’s largely about creating a resilient, open, and cooperative system — and that’s how life works, too. The specific commandments are a bit biased toward electronic design, but if we look at the underlying themes we find some core principles that could be applied much more broadly, and fit well into a biomimetic framework.

To show you what we mean, we’ve distilled the Bill of Rights down to the following four main directives, and discuss how each compares to how life works:

Share Information Freely As we all know, in a competitive market place, many companies compete by keeping secrets. But in nature, organisms and ecosystems favor cooperation over competition. Sure, there’s competition in the short-term, but the most stable state is when organisms cooperate. In nature, cooperation results in innovation, which leads to greater diversity, which in turn leads to greater resiliency.

The mutualism between flowers and their pollinators shows the importance of cooperation. Photo by Joe Schneid.

The mutualism between flowers and their pollinators shows the importance of cooperation. Photo by Joe Schneid.

Sharing information also does something else we find in nature all the time: It uses feedback loops. One result of providing transparent information would be hearing back from users about how well the product or an owner’s manual worked for them (or didn’t), what they changed or replaced, and then incorporating that information into innovative new products.

Enable Disassembly, Reassembly, Repair, and Upcycling Whereas many consumer products are actively designed to keep consumers from repairing or modifying them (see Kyle Wiens article in Make:40, the Right to Repair) nature favors the ability to repair and renew.

Not only does life not toss out what still has value, it doesn’t toss out anything. That’s manifested in this directive — we should be able to repair and upcycle our products, and we should therefore design for disassembly and reassembly. This ultimately results in much less energy and materials being used to make new products, mirroring how life optimizes its use of energy and materials.

This lizard exhibits self-renewal by growing back its tail after losing it to a would-be predator. Photo by Thegreenj.

This lizard exhibits self-renewal by growing back its tail after losing it to a would-be predator. Photo by Thegreenj.

Inevitably, many products we make or purchase will reach the end of their lives, either due to mechanical failure or outdated technology. We could throw a product out and start over, or we can accept that these changes occur and plan for those events, making parts easily replaceable and upgradable. Life is resilient to dynamic environments and conditions; that is, it’s adapted to be able to survive disturbances and disruptions. This directive in particular is similar to how life maintains its integrity through self-renewal.

Use Standardized Tools and Resources

While many companies like to differentiate themselves with proprietary technologies and specialized assembly tools, life favors relatively simple, universal building blocks over one-off solutions. Organisms use common building materials, such as the biopolymers chitin and keratin, to create a wide diversity of forms. These building materials meet multiple functions such as waterproofing and providing color and hardness.

Beetles' exoskeletons are made up of chitin, which creates bright colors, waterproofing, hardness, and the ability to fly. Photo by Troup Dresser.

Beetles’ exoskeletons are made up of chitin, which creates bright colors, waterproofing, hardness, and the ability to fly. Photo by Troup Dresser.

In addition to using these universal building blocks, life uses modular and nested components—think of the cells in our bodies, the hexagonal components of beehives, the hierarchical structure of hair, or the microenvironments that are nested within larger ecosystems.

Be Reconfigurable/ Interchangeable

In the end, what makers really want are products that can work with each other in new and exciting combinations. This echoes how organisms and ecosystems favor cooperation and compatible building blocks. Life is interconnected and interrelated, and we can strive to make our parts, products, and systems do the same.

Life’s Principles can be used to find opportunities for creating more sustainable designs. For example, an adaptation life exhibits is creating amazing materials using low-energy processes. The nacre of an abalone shell is 200 times stronger than our toughest ceramics, yet instead of being heated to high temperatures, abalones construct their shells out of minerals pulled out of seawater at seawater temperature. The abalone is also an example of how life uses energy and materials that are common and readily available, not rare and from far away.

Another example is the use of chemistry that is not harmful to cells, tissues, and the environment. The rapid rise of 3D printing is one of those situations where we might need to think about life’s chemistry. Are we going to go crazy with all this new technology, as we have with our electronics, and turn a blind eye to the impact of chemicals on our environment and health? Or can we learn from nature’s chemistry how to lessen our impacts?

By comparing the Maker’s Bill of Rights to Life’s Principles, we’ve found a lot of commonalities. We think that makers are on the right track by advocating an open, resilient product system, because that system in the end supports sustainability goals. This means disrupting the current model, creating a new context for a more evolutionary, collaborative, and dynamic product system that will help us better fit into earth’s ecosystems.

Thanks to Gretchen Hooker, the Biomimicry Institute, for cooperating with me on this post.