The last couple of Fridays we’ve had children from the Folsom Lake College Youth Art Academy in the makerspace.  In week 1, two of the three groups worked on building pneumatic monsters


and paper circuits…


…while Max Mahoney had the third group in the Chemistry lab doing cyanotype photography


A number of the children were attending both weeks of the camp, so we wanted to mix it up a bit for week two.  After researching various engineering challenges, we developed and prototyped a building system of laser cut connectors that could be used with standard popsicle sticks.


We were able to cut 578 per sheet, ~41 minutes per sheet.


The children worked in pairs on engineering challenges, beginning with heaviest weight with minimum sticks


…and moving on to tallest freestanding structure:


…after which they connected their towers using living hinge bridges laser cut from cardstock, and decorated with LEDs, giving us a chance to talk a little bit about circuits and electricity.


The building system worked surprisingly well for a version 1, and we learned some things – specifically, that the pieces were a little small and the tolerances a little tight for some 8 year olds – that we’ll incorporate into version 2.  More photos from the YAA makerspace visit.

The folks from Paton Group came out yesterday to train us on the Roland Modela MDX-50 we’ve got in the makerspace.

First impressions…

The machine is well-built, and the rotary attachment is especially nice, with precisely machined aluminum parts and the most amazingly smooth bearings. It’s quiet, at least when milling chemical wood.  It creates a LOT of dust, and took a while to vacuum after the part was finished.  The lighting cues are nice, and it’s easy to monitor the machine from anywhere in the lab.  The software – SRP Player CAM – is dead simple to use. I don’t have much experience machining, but I was able to pretty easily set up and run a job after being shown the process just once. It takes standard .STL files, so it should be pretty accessible to those with some 3D printing experience.

MDX-50 First Carve

The model I picked – Totoro by joo on Thingiverse – was maybe not the best choice, in terms of size (I didn’t make the best use of the material) and because of where the supports needed to be (between the ears, though I learned that custom supports can be built into the .STL file to solve such challenges), but I am happy with the result overall.  The chemical wood is a new material to me, and is easily worked with an X-ACTO knife, sandpaper, and files.

My Neighbor

The Innovation Center recently came by several 100 count boxes of 1 mL and 3 mL syringes, and we set about seeing how we might work them into an activity for an upcoming STEAM camp, inspired by this post from @zackboston

…which led to this video from Ivydale Science & Technology Service

To start, we duplicated the procedure detailed in the Ivydale video above to create the basic model…


…and then set to work seeing how we might use the laser cutter to create the monster form, with the goal of streamlining the production process to minimize taping and hot gluing. I created several iterations in Illustrator, and the laser made quick work of the card stock.  Here’s a closeup of the “final” version, which securely holds the syringe without tape, and which requires only a small bit of hot glue to attach the plunger to the hinge mechanism…


Here’s a pdf of the file used to create the monster. It’s sized to cut two ovals from an 8.5 by 11 sheet of card stock. To make the file work on our laser, the strokes have to be set to “hairline” in CorelDRAW, or .001 weight in Illustrator, pure RGB red (255.0.0).  Overall, I’m happy with how it’s working, though the small syringes – a 1 mL on the monster and a 3 mL for the remote – make for a sort of dreamy, organic, delayed reaction that only operates on the push…

The basics established, I set to work creating a mix-and-match, interchangeable eyes-and-teeth system, cut from 1/8″ hobby plywood.  I’ll upload the vector files of all of these once I get them finished up.  With the laser cutter humming, one idea led to another (as they often do), and I started to wonder how a living hinge might be incorporated into the design. The results are interesting, and there’s probably a whole other related project in there somewhere…

Fascinated by living hinges, Nathaniel (student) and I began experimenting, and were able to take an 8 inch paper hinge…


…and stretch it to 80 inches before it started failing!


Next, I dunked a yet-to-be-expanded laser cut paper living hinge in a mixture of glue and water, and then stretched it out and let it dry…


As predicted, the glue and water mixture stiffened the paper, and it kept its shape (mostly) once dry.  There’s a lot to be explored with living hinges – jumping off points include Patrick Fenner’s Laser-cut Lattice Living Hinges, a fascinating look at the math behind them, and this Customizable Tessellating Living Hinge by drxenocide.  There’s nothing quite like having the tools, materials, and time to work an idea!

A couple of weeks ago, Nathaniel (student) set out to replace a (mysteriously) missing piece of his car with a 3D printed part. He carefully measured the remaining bit, modeled the replacement using Tinkercad, which is really accessible and easy to use.  He then printed the replacement part using an Ultimaker 3, which took all of 22 minutes.

After a few minor modifications with the Dremel…

Minor Modifications

…a good fit was achieved…

Replacement Part

…and the car was fixed!

Piece in Place

It’s especially satisfying to see 3D printing used to empower people to solve real-world problems.

On Friday, May 5, the Innovation Center Makerspace Student Advisory group held a planning retreat in the Innovation Center Makerspace.  Rebekah, Nathaniel, CJ and Nicole are four of the college’s most engaged students, and they have been actively involved in the growth and development of our makerspace.

Innovation Center Makerspace Student Advisory Retreat

After some general discussion about planning mechanics – we agreed to continue using Slack (for team communication), Google Drive (for document sharing), and Asana (for project and task management) as our planning and communication toolset – we moved through some brainstorming and discussion in the areas of Operations, Marketing and Outreach, and Makerspace Programs, all in preparation for our fall opening, and all against the backdrop of the statewide CCC Maker Grant.

On the Operations thread, we talked about onboarding of new students, facility and machine access issues, safety and training, facility usage tracking, and protocols around equipment upkeep, maintenance, and supplies.

Moving on to Marketing and Outreach, we discussed the development of an Innovation Center Makerspace brand, including logo, typography, colors and a style guide, and an outreach plan, including the potential for a “makerspace student ambassador” program, classroom presentations, involvement of student clubs and organizations, and activities leading up to our grand opening event in the fall.

Finally, we did some brainstorming around the theme of Makerspace Programming, and generated ideas including hosting coding and other bootcamps, eSports tournaments, mini Maker Faire participation, 1st Friday “What I Make” sessions, the proposed Makers in Residence program, and integration with Science Center and other collegewide activities (like the recent cyanotype activity, March for Science sign making, Social Justice Spring event, and International Workers’ Day march and ceremony).

Feeding our planning efforts are the data from a survey adapted by Nathaniel and Rebekah from one Sierra College has used in their own makerspace planning efforts.  We’re still analyzing the survey results, but my favorite response so far, in answer to a question about what students find appealing about makerspaces:

“Real life application.  We study so much theory and it would be nice to engineer something.”

The student voice is critical in the development of makerspace programs, services, and culture, and we’re lucky to have such a dedicated and engaged group of students to help guide our growth.

The pieces we ordered to build the volumetric display for Chemistry visualization finally arrived!  With the help of CJ, Nathan, and Rebekah (students), Max (Chemistry) got everything cabled up…


Using bits from our original prototype, Max fired up a molecule, and it works!

Prototype, a Long Time in the Making

In order to better enjoy the three dimensional holographic molecules, we quickly cooked up a little blanket fort…

Building the Fort

Be Present

It Works!

Now that we have the parts in place, we can move on to developing the enclosure and making the system portable. It’s great to have the space, tools, and people to be able to turn good ideas into working prototypes, and we’re looking forward to making quick progress on this one (finally).

The Royal Chicano Air Force, a collective of local artists, educators, and activists helped the college celebrate International Workers’ Day with a “Making Art, Making Change” event in the Innovation Center Makerspace, followed by a march across campus and a ceremony and film screening.

Stan and his crew arrived in the morning, and set to work preparing the space for communal art making, based on this conceptual sketch…

Concept Sketch

Students from two of Josh Fernandez’s (English) classes did some painting…

Black Lives Matter

and some Ojos de Dios making…

Los Ojos

The crew posed for a picture…

Art Crew

after which a drummer (and a conch player!) arrived to lead us in a procession across campus, bathed in copal smoke…

Drummer Leading

The banner turned out beautifully!


More photos from the event…

Taylor and Zainub and Jeremy and CJ (students) and Diane Carlson (Sociology) and I collaborated on a display to accompany the culminating event of the college’s Social Justice Spring events.

Here Taylor and Zainub are creating a physical (and metaphorical) wall from felt and fabric…

Wall Making

We remixed Shepard Fairey’s “We the People” series, then used the vinyl cutter to create large stickers. Diane and I preparing a sticker for transfer…

Sticker Making

…and Diane and Jeremy laying out the words for the display.


Here’s the wall, about to be torn down…

The Big Reveal

…and here’s the final result, beautifully back-lit:

All Three Panels

A great and powerful wrap-up for an important month-long series of activities. I’m proud of our college!

Earlier this week, Diane Carlson (Sociology) and I held a preview event for Making Social Change, our Sociology + Making course, as part of FLC’s Social Justice Spring events. We decided to create some drop spindles and spin some yarn, based on an activity Erica Tyler (Anthropology) developed as part of last summer’s Making Across the Curriculum faculty professional development program.

We cut the whorls using the laser cutter (which has been christened “Danger Scissors”)…


Note the engraved design, inspired by Gandhi’s spinning wheel.  Diane cut the dowels using a good old-fashioned chop saw…


…after which she and Erica taught us how to turn wool into yarn.

Drop Spindling

We also walked students through some other digital fabrication techniques, using the same spinning wheel motif source file to create objects using the Carvey, vinyl cutter, and 3D printer.  Looking forward to helping bring this course to life in the fall!