The Toy Maker

A large part of the world still educates their kids using a system that’s completely antiquated. Personal choices and interests don’t matter, and learning by rote is the norm. Government schooling is woefully inadequate and the teachers are just not equipped, or trained, to be able to impart useful education. [Arvind Gupta], a science educator, is trying to change this by teaching kids how to build toys. His YouTube channel on Toys for Science and Math Education has almost 100,000 subscribers and over 44 million views. It’s awesome.

matchstickmecanno01[Arvind] graduated from one of the finest engineering schools in India, the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, and joined the TATA conglomerate at their heavy-vehicles plant helping build trucks. It didn’t take him long to realize that he wasn’t cut out to be building trucks. So he took a year off and enrolled in a village science program which was working towards changing the education system. At the weekly village bazaar, he came across interesting pieces of arts and crafts that the villagers were selling. A piece of rubber tubing, used as the core of the valve in bicycle tubes, caught his eye. He bought a length and a couple of matchboxes, and created what he calls “matchstick Meccano”.

This was in the 1970’s. Since then, he has been travelling all over India getting children to learn by building fun toys. The toys he designs are made from commonly available raw material and can be easily built with minimum resources. These ingenious DIY toys and activities help make maths and science education fun and interesting for children at all levels of schooling. All of his work is shared in the spirit of open source and available via his website and YouTube channels. A large body of his work has been translated in to almost 20 languages and you are welcome to help add to that list by dubbing the videos.

Check out the INK Conference video below where he shares his passion for education and shows simple yet entertaining and well-designed toys built from trash and recycled materials.

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Drawn in by the Siren’s Song

When I say “siren” what do you think of? Ambulances? Air raids? Sigh. I was afraid you were going to say that. We’ve got work to do.

You see, the siren played an important role in physics and mathematics about 150 years ago. Through the first half of the 1900s, this fine apparatus was trivialized, used for its pure noise-making abilities. During the World Wars, the siren became associated with air raids and bomb shelters: a far cry from its romantic origins. In this article, we’re going to take the siren back for the Muses. I want you to see the siren in a new light: as a fundamental scientific experiment, a musical instrument, and in the end, as a great DIY project — this is Hackaday after all.

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Cyborg Photosynthetic Bacteria!

This is weird science. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have taken some normal bacteria and made them photosynthetic by adding cadmium sulfide nanoparticles. Cadmium sulfide is what makes the garden-variety photoresistor work. That’s strange enough. But the bacteria did the heavy lifting — they coated themselves in the inorganic cadmium — which means that they can continue to grow and reproduce without much further intervention.

Bacteria are used as workhorses in a lot of chemical reactions these days, and everybody’s trying to teach them new tricks. But fooling them into taking on inorganic light absorbing materials and becoming photosynthetic is pretty cool. As far as we understand, the researchers found a chemical pathway into which the electrons produced by the CdS would fit, and the bacteria took care of the rest. They still make acetic acid, which is their normal behavior, but now they produce much more when exposed to light.

If you want to dig a little deeper, the paper just came out in Science magazine, but it’s behind a paywall. But with a little searching, one can often come up with the full version for free. (PDF).

Or if you’d rather make electricity, instead of acetic acid, from your bacteria be our guest. In place of CdS, however, you’ll need a fish. Biology is weird.

Headline images credit: Peidong Yang

Molecular Motor Drives Nano Submarine

Technology keeps making things smaller, but this is ridiculous. Scientists at Rice University in Houston have just made a tiny submarine with a molecular motor. They call it a unimolecular submersible nanomachine (USN), because it is composed of a single molecule made up of 244 atoms. The really smart bit comes from how it is driven: when the molecule absorbs a photon of light, one of the bonds that holds it together becomes more flexible, and the tail spins a quarter of a rotation to attach to another atom and reach the preferred lower energy state. This motion moves the molecule, and the process repeats. This happens millions of times a second.

I wouldn’t put down a deposit on a nanosub quite yet, though: the motion is random, as there is no way to steer the molecule at present. The researchers figured out that it behaves this way by analyzing the way that the molecule diffuses, because these molecules diffuse 25 per cent quicker with the light source than without.  Nope, not very practical, but it is a neat bit of molecular hackery.

Citizen Scientist: Forrest Mims

Before the modern notion of the citizen scientist lies the earlier ideal of the independent scientist. Scientists outside of the academic community but engaging with it. These days citizen scientists are often seen as valuable assistants in the scientific process, helping collect and process data in a quantity which would be otherwise intractable.

In the past however, independent scientists had a far more central role. Galileo, Kepler, Darwin and Hooke were all self funded at various points in their careers. More recently independent scientist Peter Mitchell won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1978 for his foundational research into cell biochemistry and the development of the chemiosmotic hypothesis.

Sadly, peer-reviewed scientific contributions by scientists un-sponsored by a research organization are now few and far between. In this short series we hope to highlight the efforts of these lone researchers with particular reference to the tools they’ve had to hack together on a budget in their scientific quests (if you know an independent researcher you think we should feature, please comment below!).

In Hacker circles Forrest Mims is perhaps best known for his series of electronics books and the unforgeable Atari Punk Console. But it’s his ability to engage with the scientific community as an independent researcher through a series of well thought out scientific articles that interests us here. Contributions made all the more significant by his lack of formal scientific training.

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Teeny Tiny Very Small – Atomic Resolution and the Home Hobbyist

Atoms are small. Really small. You just won’t believe how minusculely microscopically mindbogglingly small they are. I mean you may think it’s a short way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to atoms.

Atoms really are small. The atomic radius of a carbon atom is on the order of 0.1 nanometers, that’s 0.0000001 millimeters. It’s hard to grasp how fantastically small this is compared to objects we generally encounter, but as a starting point I’d recommend looking at the “Powers of Ten” video found below whose ability to convey the concept has been unrivaled since it was published in 1977.

The term nanometer might be most familiar from the semiconductor industry, and its seemingly unstoppable march to smaller feature sizes. Feature sizes currently hover somewhere around the 10 nanometer mark. So while these multi-billion dollar facilities can achieve 10nm precision it’s somewhat surprising that sub-nanometer feature size positioning, and fabrication techniques are available at relatively low cost to the hacker hobbyist.

In this article we’re going to review some of the amazing work demonstrated by hobbyists in the area of the very very small through use of cutting edge, but low cost techniques.

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Demonstrating Science at Harvard University

What if there was a job where you built, serviced, and prepared science demonstrations? This means showing off everything from principles of physics, to electronic theory, to chemistry and biology. Would you grab onto that job with both hands and never let go? That was my reaction when I met [Dan Rosenberg] who is a Science Lecture Demonstrator at Harvard University. He gave me a tour of the Science Center, as well as a behind the scenes look at some of the apparatus he works with and has built.

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