Tag Archives: DIY

The Erector Set of the 21st Century

We have reached a critical point for creation. A few hot spots bloom with innovation, but for the most part, our youth sits at home with Mario Kart and first person shooter games. Science education consists of baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, and kids lose interest in any science before they even realize what it is. Instead of embracing technology, we have started to fear the exciting advance we’re making. Newspapers write articles about “Bio-Hackers running Imageloose, threatening our livelihoods, our children” yet, a mentally disturbed man can buy an AK-47 and we can’t even pass an assault weapon ban. The public fears the wrong things entirely; most can’t even accomplish the bio-catastrophes they dread. We regulate and restrict things in the name of protection, yet we these little labs are more likely to make a glow-in-the dark gold fish than a bio-weapon.

We should be convincing kids to play with science, to foster innovation from an early age. The US fast falls behind other countries, but we can help change that. A 6 year old can extract DNA from a strawberry, a 10 year old can try their first experiment with algae. High school and college students should be encouraged and able to test their ideas, but they can’t even order a plasmid online. We need to make simple, and safe biology tools more open and available. We have a safety ranking system for biology, so why is Bio Safety Level 1, “suitable for work involving well-characterized agents not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adult humans, and of minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment”, so restricted? Biotech companies don’t even want to deliver simple things like buffers to DIYBio labs. They’re too worried about getting sued.

These materials need to be widely available! Biotech stands poised in the same boom potential as tech and computers 20 years ago, but the difference lies in those with computers versus those with plasmids. We are going to fall behind and lose the potential for innovation if people cannot interact with Biotech. I envision a world where I can go to Amazon, go to the Bio category, and order some plasmids to run my experiment.

As a high school student looking to test an award winning project idea, I spent months looking for a lab to test my idea. After more than 100 emails, and 20 meetings, I found an internship, but I still couldn’t test my idea. What about all the other people that have biology ideas? I got inspired to open a Seattle Bio-Hackerspace, HiveBio, with my co-director Bergen McMurrary. We want to help make biology more accessible to the community. Because E. coli is fun! We need the legislation to change. In the 20s 30s, kids built crystal radios, in the 50s and 60s they built models, my parents played with Erector sets. DIYBiology can be the Erector set of today, but we have to change the legislation to help it and give the youth of today a creative outlet that will propel our society to a better world.Image

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The Maker Movement

This is a repost of an entry I did for the Edlab group blog

The Maker Movement

Brighton 2012 Mini Maker Faire via Dan Lockton

Normal people can make cool stuff too. The Maker Movement is a growing movement of people deciding to build stuff, rather than buy it. Not necessarily to save money, but for the fun. It signifies a movement of backyards, garages, and weird hours. Some projects are serious, soon to make their way to the commercial market – like people who do DIY biology experiments in their garage; while others are pure whimsy. We’re talking giant talking giraffes, real life super hero suits, and fire breathing dragons. Yes – dragons! Maybe my childhood dream of having a pet unicorn is possible after all, as long as I don’t mind that it’s made of aluminum.

The Maker Movement has some general components:

  • It’s a movement of the young, not the old “when I was your age” bankers/lawyers/doctors that we often associate with success. Everyone from little kids to grad students. Us folk that aren’t stuck with normal working hours can spend more time after-school, in between classes, etc. on our cool projects. We’ve also grown up with the idea that we can make things. “Make Magazine” has a special “kids” section. Kids of all ages can sign up for Google and “Make Magazine’s” 30 day long, onlineMaker Camp. You can sign up for emails and receive cool talks, demos, and more information on how to be a Maker. But you can tailor it to your own time, because everything can be accessed after the talk “happened”. (I think this is a key component for those of us who think 12 noon is early in the morning. *Cough *Cough – too much “How I Met your Mother” last night.) Oh – and it’s free. You can even participate in “fieldtrips” through Google Hangout; a slightly cooler version than Skype from my completely objective third party opinion. Because I definitely did not broadcast myself air-guitaring to someone by accident. In school now, students of all ages can compete in robotics competitions. They work on a team to build a robot to the theme of that year’s competition.  This year the theme was basketball, and the teams designed robots to shoot hoops. That might be useful considering the last time I tried to play basketball I dropped the ball on my head.
  • It pulls from the community using resources of neighboring people. The Maker Movement focuses heavily on hackerspaces.  Hackerspaces are comprised of community centers, garages, and basements that people equip. Members pay for the cost of materials and then can use the equipment and expertise of the other makers there. At Noisebridge in San Francisco, they offer a wide array of classes throughout the day. They range from cooking classes, to German lessons, to a workshop on the Linux operating system. FamiLab in Orlando hosts a YoungMakers program, where they encourage and mentor students in making their dream projects. This program spawned the previously mentioned fire-breathing dragon.
  • It puts STEM to use in a tangible way, not the “will the plants grow if we water them with Pepsi” way you find in schools. Part of the definition of the Maker Movement is actually making things you can touch and use. Bill Gates just started out as a nerdy high-school student who made computer code in all of his spare time. And I’d say that the development of Microsoft is about as useful as things can get. General Electrics asked for the advice of DIY makers using Facebook. They want to see the designs of model airplanes and airports. Through “Make Magazine” you can buy an Arduino kit that allows you to start building computers. All at your own house.
  • It allows you to be creative, in a way you may have left behind in preschool with finger painting. Through Adafruit, you can buy kits and books to help teach yourself. Self-guided education is the education for the future, and allows you to use your creativity and adapt the curriculum to your interests. And it’s just fun. After all, everyone has a small part of them that wants a fire-breathing dragon in our garage. (Or maybe that’s just me.) At the World Maker Faire this coming September, “Make Magazine” advertises attractions in everything from fashion to art to food to technology.  Some of my favorite attraction descriptions are: “The Life Sized Mousetrap”, “Iconic Cupcake Cars”, and “The Nerdy Derby” – a derby race with cars built from Legos, wood, golf balls and more. But without rules.

So, who are these makers of the 21st century? The big names of the Make Movement consist of: Dale Dougherty, the founder of “Make Magazine”, a magazine with tons of cool DIY projects, “Radio Shack”, who just launched a new site for radio shack product DIYs, and “Adafruit Industries”, an online store for Makers. But, most Makers start out as kids and college student playing around with “fun stuff” in their garage. Then one day, they might discover something huge that allows them to invent the next iPod. The Maker Movement of socially challenged kids hitting it big changed into a movement of the people. The “makers” of the past were people like cobblers, dressmakers, bakers – people making out of necessity, not for glamour or fame. The Maker Movement has slowly moved into a movement for the people – the maker movement. Yes, you still have a chance at becoming a gazillionaire, but now people everywhere are making. From fashion bloggers dip-dyeing their own jeans, to a cash-strapped teenager fixing their own T.V, everyone “makes”.

So don’t feel the pressure to invent some amazing creation that speaks, cooks brownies, and can win jeopardy. Make just for the fun of not having to pay, for something to do on the weekend with your friends, or because you found a free DVD player on the street. We all can make things, so seize the opportunity, and have fun.