I’ve been working a lot lately with members of Folsom Lake College’s Peer Mentors, a group helmed by the the great Juan Flores (fellow faculty member and father of my lab helper from the other day).  The Peer Mentors are working on developing tiles for the mosaic tile project, with the goal that they will in turn help their assigned mentees to develop tiles.  It’s our hope that involving new college students in a technical and very accessible project will give them a connection to the makerspace early in their college career, and that having a physical artifact on the wall will help them feel connected to the college. Jess (student, Peer Mentor, and astrobiology enthusiast) was the first student from the group to have her design ready.

Jess Changing Bits

The new rough/fine pass feature of Easel is a good one, and should help to preserve the tremendously delicate 1/32″ bits.  We actually ended up doing three passes with successively smaller bits,  and Jess quickly mastered the process, producing this really nice design.

KC Boylan (Communication and Media Studies) stopped by later in the day to cut her tile…

KC Changing Bits

and Kathleen Kirklin (Interim President) did hers a couple of weeks ago…

Kathleen Securing her Tile

The project is turning out to be a great way to foster community as we continue to develop the space, and it’s a maker skills confidence builder besides.  With nearly a dozen tiles finished, I need to work with Ian Wallace (Theater Arts) to get some time on the big ShopBot to route out the waffle frame so we can get these up on the wall!

We reached an important milestone in the project this afternoon. The power trio of Nathaniel, Rebekah, and Nathan – the core of FLC’s Data Science Club – got the Raspberry Pi installed and working to drive the integrated monitor, displaying a rolling presentation about the science – chiefly the nitrogen cycle – that makes the aquaponics system work.


As with most prototypes, the presentation needs a few tweaks, but it’s great to see all of the system components coming together.

Tweaking the Monitor Rotation

Nathan is working on the Arduino sensor array, and we’re still waiting to swap the science fish with the aquaponics fish, the latter in the quarantine holding tank in the Innovation Center.  The plan is to swap the green arcade button with a blue one, to match the colors in the presentation, and the button subsystem needs some attention, but overall the project is finally starting to feel like it might one day be finished!

Nathaniel, Rebekah and Nathan Contemplating Raspbian

Lab Assistant

Diego, a colleague’s son, was in the makerspace today. He happily spent two hours parting out some old computers, one of which had a floppy drive. I showed him this inspiring video:

I would love to get some floppy disk music going in the lab. After the computers were disassembled, Diego put on the safety gear and went after an old printer.

Diego, Helping

Safety first!

Ultimaker 3

The new Ultimaker 3 arrived the other day, and Thomas Schmitt (student) unboxed it and got it set up and calibrated. Thomas has been designing a bobbin for fly fishing fly tying, and some of the project parameters, including a threaded rod and a hollow tube that serves as a thread guide, seemed to provide a good test case for a first print on the U3. The machine comes standard with dual extruders, and ships with a roll of PVA, a water-soluble filament.

Thomas Prints the First U3 Print

The first print came out really nice, and the water-soluble support material is a game changer, especially for printing certain fine details and hollow areas.  Some of the tricky biology models that faculty want to print are finally going to be within reach.

Kathleen Kirklin (FLC’s Interim President) took the robot for a spin in the library other day.

Kathleen Kirklin Drives Robot

I also had the chance to share with Kathleen and Gary Hartely (Dean) progress on the aquaponics project. The plan is to have the screen display some rolling information about the biological and chemical processes in play, interspersed with footage from the live fishcam that will be inside the tank. Pressing the big green arcade button will bring up charts and graphs of the in-tank (temp, pH, electroconductivity) and out-of-tank (temp, humidity, and perhaps one or two others) sensor data.

Robot Observation

Lots to do, but within the next couple of weeks there should be some serious development work on all parts of the project…

Photos courtesy of Tony Humphreys.

Assembled a team of faculty and students to continue work on the Rostock Max v3 (part 1, part 2). As before, the project is nicely modular, so while Max (Chemistry) and CJ (student) worked on the electronics…

Max and CJ Back At It

…Diane (Sociology), Alex Hartigan (student), and Thomas Schmitt (student) focused on the main assembly.


As it turns out, instead of three each of the inner and outer bits that hold the bearings for the carriage, the kit included four and two.  We talked about some options, and the crew decided to mod one of the errant parts to make it work, which involved sawing off a bit of it…

Thomas Monifying a Rostock Max v3 Part

…and drilling a couple of holes…

Thomas and Alex Modifying a 3D Printer Part

…while I contacted the vendor about sending a replacement. We think our modified part will work, but I’m working on getting the right part sent, just in case.

Meanwhile, Taylor (student) dropped by to test the water chemistry of the in-progress aquaponics installation.

Diane and Taylor Talk About Ammonia

We’ve probably got at least another day of work before the printer is finished, and as folks began drifting away, Levi (receiving) delivered 12 new lab stools.  CJ, Alex and Thomas hung around and helped assemble them.

The Crew Gets to Work Assembling the Lab Stools

Still waiting on the workbenches, which should be here in the next couple of weeks.  Lots of energy, and lots of making!

Fantastic progress this week on the aquaponics project.  The Theater Arts department finished the display, and FLC Maintenance drilled the holes in the raised floor under the unit, pulled the power and Ethernet, and bolted the whole thing to the floor to make it topple-proof.  FLC’s Data Science club, spearheaded by Nathaniel Adams (student) and Rebekah Keeley (student) have taken responsibility for the technical implementation, including visual and interaction design, front- and back-end Web development, database work, and getting the Raspberry Pi configured and working with the Arduino, which is doing the data gathering.

Meanwhile Taylor Zenobia (student) and Katie Stackhouse (student) have taken charge of the biological systems, selecting the fish species, and arranging the in-tank decor.

Adding Water

They washed and added the sand, rocks, and plants, then carried the water quite a distance from the Innovation Center to the Library. We’ve got inoculated filter media from the Science Fish (they’re currently living in the IC), which should speed up the tank start-up process. Taylor has been regularly monitoring the water, and once the water chemistry is stable, we’ll look at adding the fish, a few at a time.


We got a telepresence robot. So far so good. Simple to operate, relatively stable, although I have flipped it on its back a few times, but in any case it’s certainly rugged.

Planning some spring prototypes, including orientation, tours, Library instruction, telemedicine, guest speakers, and general silliness.


Hosted the second Rostock Max build day today. The crew – mostly the same folks from the first build day – put in a good day of work, and we got much of the hot end done, finished up the base, and made good progress on the top assembly.  We decided to adapt the topping out tradition, aka “signing the beam,” though we aren’t actually finished with the build.


More photos from today’s build…

Max Working on the Hot End

Nathaniel and Rebekah Building

Nathaniel Heat Shrinking

Alex Soldering