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Like many of my generation, life changed a bit when Sputnik was launched in October, 1957. While many of my classmates were interested in rocketry, my own interest was more in the field of electronics – the instruments needed to make measurements of temperature, pressure, and other data that was then sent back to Earth by radio. Because I was an amateur radio operator at the time (K9SRW) who built all my own equipment, this was a natural extension of then-current interests. I remember walking part way home from high school just so I could stop at a local Army surplus store packed with boxes of resistors, capacitors, and other components including the transistors needed to build amplifiers, oscillators, and other circuits one might need.

Since, as I said, rocketry was not my goal, I looked for any way to get a project off the earth, even if it didn’t go into orbit. As a result, in 1961, the method I chose (helium-filled weather balloons) was not only inexpensive, it could be used to carry a pretty heavy payload (two kg or so). With my focus on the electronics, I built the transmitter, and the attachments needed to measure altitude, temperature, air pressure, luminosity, and to send the legally required Identification signal. All of these circuits were modular, and a lot of time was spent making sure everything worked. My father provided a photographic plate to see if I could detect cosmic rays (assuming I would get the plate back from the experiment so it could be developed.)

The finished payload was a cube about 30 cm on a side, and I built two of them – one in Styrofoam for launch, and one in clear plastic for testing and display for a science fair at my high school. I called the experiment Project HiBall (for high balloon, of course) and on launch day I just hoped everything worked.

Fortunately, the experiment was a success. The balloon headed west, and landed a day later on a farm in Iowa where a kind farmer found it and sent it to me. The data was not earth-shattering, but the experiments mostly worked as planned and the resulting science fair project was well-received, taking me to the State finals. While my interest in STEM subjects had already been formed, there is little question that this project strengthened these interests, setting the trajectory for my continued education.

SCAN0243

The reason I shared this experience with you is because, today, even more amazing options are available. The first technology to mention is the CubeSat- small (10 cm/side, about 1 kg)) satellites for student projects that stay in low-earth orbits for about a year (www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cubesats/). While most of the projects are done by college students, there is a special opportunity to expand this access to high school students. This project (ArduSat – http://www.ardusat.com) is based on the popular Arduino board used to send and receive data from all kinds of sensors and actuators. While most Arduino projects reside here on Earth, the Ardusat system lets students design and test experiments in their classroom that can then be sent to an Arduino-based CubeSat for testing in space. From my historical perspective, this is staggering!ardusat

The Arduino board connects to a computer and has numerous inputs and outputs for both digital and analog data. The Ardusat student kit includes some special sensors for luminosity, temperature, an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, UV sensor, infrared thermopile and other data sources. The whole kit is only $150 which is a bargain considering the specialized sensors it contains. While experiments can be designed and tested here on Earth, finished Arduino programs can be sent 450 km up to the Ardusat where experiments can be done and the data sent to Earth.

This goes way beyond what I was doing in 1961 in two very important ways. First, the experiments are done on an orbiting satellite. Second, the projects can be done by students without them having to design all the sensors and other equipment themselves. This has the effect of democratizing the endeavor, bringing an amazing opportunity for STEM education to students everywhere.

In addition to the hardware kits, Ardusat also has a lot of activities and experiments that can be downloaded and explored – including tutorials on the hardware itself. This material is generally released under a Creative Commons copyright, making it perfect for free classroom use.

In addition to the tutorials and other resources, the activities are keyed to both the Next Generation Science and the Common Core Standards. This adds value in that teachers can see how Ardusat projects tie into the standards they are expected to support without having to wade through the massive standards documents themselves.

There is no question in my mind that the project I did ages ago helped guide me into the sciences. What excites me more is that projects like Ardusat will achieve this result for thousands of kids who well then go on to invent our future.

Made in Space created the 3D printer installed on the International Space Station that works in a microgravity mediumenvironment.  NASA has decided to open the design process for some parts for the Station to the public.  For example, people are encouraged to submit designs for a handrail clamp to hold various objects (https://grabcad.com/challenges/nasa-handrail-clamp-assembly-challenge).  This competition (which ends in February) has cash awards, but I think no award could be greater than having something you designed installed on the ISS!

Check it out!

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,500 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

With the holidays getting into full gear, it seemed appropriate to make some gifts that won’t be found at the local store. One project we did was to design and build a 3D Tic Tac Toe set that could be made on a 3D printer. Since I’m currently writing a book on designing 3D shapes using the OpenSCAD language (www.openscad.org) it seemed appropriate to create our shapes with this tool. (By the way, you can get a draft of the book for free by contacting me.)

The game board is a square shape with eight rods on which pieces can be placed. The goal is to get three of the same shape in a row, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally on any of the four faces. The game pieces are round balls and crosses with holes in them to let them stack on the rods.

The program for the board is:

// 3D Tic Tac Toe Base
$fn=100;
// game base
cube ([100, 100, 5]);
for (j=[0:1]){
for (i=[0:2]){
translate ([10+i*40, 10+j*80, 0]){
cylinder (80, 5, 5);
}}}
for (j=[0:1]){
translate ([10+j*80, 50, 0]){
cylinder (80, 5, 5);

(The details of programming in this language are included in the free book draft.)

3d tic tac toe board

The pieces (noughts and crosses) are designed in a second program and printed in an array of nine pieces, one shape at a time. For example, the program for the noughts is as follows:

// 3D tic tac toe pieces
$fn=100;
//nought
module nought (){
difference (){
sphere (15);
cylinder (40, 6, 6, center=true);
}

//cross
module cross (){
difference (){
union (){
rotate ([0, 45, 0]){
cube ([10, 16, 30], center=true);
}
rotate ([0, -45, 0]){
cube ([10, 16, 30], center=true);
}}
cylinder (40, 6, 6, center=true);
}}

//nought array
for (j=[0:2]){
for (i=[0:2]){
translate ([-25+i*35, j*35, 0]){
nought ();
}}}

noughts

To make the crosses, the noughts array needs to be replaced with this one:

//cross array
for (j=[0:2]){
for (i=[0:2]){
translate ([-25+i*35, j*35, 0]){
cross ();
}}}

crosses

All the pieces are exported as STL files for the printer to use, and I chose different colors for the board, the noughts and the crosses.

While the rules are the same as for ordinary tic tac toe, the game is made more challenging by addition of the four faces, and that any vertically stacked shape has to be on top of the platform or another shape.

I made 12 of each shape – enough to fill the entire board.

Enjoy your new game for the holidays and let me know what you think!  Write me at dthornburg@aol.com

On September 19-20 Norma and I attended the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science. This extravaganza had so much to offer that two days were barely enough to scratch the surface. The Faire itself had everything from exhibits of new tools for makers to hands’-on areas where you could learn to solder, or build thngs of your own.

Kinderlab

Kinderlab

One of the many new products being demonstrated was the Kinderlab robotics system where kids can assemble computer

programs with wooden blocks whose bar codes were then scanned by a robotic platform that would then follow the instructions in the program. This project was one of several Kickstarter projects on display.

Based on our interests, we looked very closely at the 3D printing systems, along with some of the new CNC machines that cut elaborate shapes from blocks of wood, wax, plastic, or aluminum. On the 3D printer front, the M3D printer was

M3D Printer

M3D Printer

receiving a lot of attention. This under-$400 printer doesn’t have a very large print volume, but has some super features, including a special circuit that maintains alignment of the print head automatically. Many other 3D printers were on display but one of the ones getting a lot of attention was the new system being sold by Dremel. This is one of the first 3D printers with a well-known name behind it, and this device will be sold in places like Home Depot. When 3D rinters first started showing up for the hobby market, they required a lot of adjustment to keep them working well. In the following years, features (like self-leveling build plates) started to become more common. The fact that well-known brands are entering the market shows that this technolog is becoming mainstream. This doesn’t mean that smaller companies will go away, just that they will be held to high standards.

Dremel 3D Printer

Dremel 3D Printer

Of course, in this short posting, we can’t do justice to the Maker Faire. For example, two Italian exhibitors were showing

Chocolate iPhone Case

Chocolate iPhone Case

interesting devices, including a 3D printer using chocolate (in case you get hungry and want to eat your iPhone case). Another system from FABtotum in Milan combines a 3D printer, computer controlled milling machine, and high resolution scanner into one elegant box. Products like these help set the stage for the next Maker Faire!

MIT’s Mitch Resnick has said that Maker Faires are great staff development for educators. Our experience shows he is right.

Today was the first day of the World Maker Faire held at the New York Hall of Science, and Norma and I were there the whole day and still didn’t see everything. But we will go tomorrow as well. Once we get back to Chicago I’ll post a more detailed report with photos of some of the more amazing things we saw.

The 3D printer world continues to grow. Dremel (the popular maker of hand tools) showed their $1000 printer. While it is not as feature rich as other printers on the market, they have arranged to sell the device through Home Depot stores – starting with 100 stores and expanding from there. Needless to say, other vendors of 3D printers are paying close attention to Dremel.

Kickstarter had a region of the massive exhibit where (among many other things) M3D showed their $350 3D printer that self adjusts as it is making parts. The print space is not very big, but my guess is this will become a starter printer for many folks. Right now they are filling their first 11,000 orders.

NASA has an interesting exhibit, but was unable to get one of the special 3D printers planned to be launched to the ISS Sunday morning.

As regular readers of this blog know, Norma and I are focused on additive fabrication in which parts are built layer by layer in a 3D printer. Another fabrication process known for many more years is subtractive. You start with a block of material from which material is milled away to leave the final shape. Several vendors of these computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines were showing their products, but the one that really caught our attention was the Fabtotum from Italy. This machine functions as a traditional 3D printer, a CNC milling machine, and a 3D scanner. The system sells for about $1500. Needless to say we will be looking at this in more depth as we help schools think through the design of Maker Spaces where numerous kinds of tools are needed.

Later we’ll give our wrap-up of the entire event with pictures of some of the cooler things we saw.

Last week we conducted a workshop for educators on 3D printing in the Indianapolis public library.  They have a space that was perfect for working with twenty educators.  Several 3D printers were provided by 3D Parts Mfg., and Norma and I were the workshop leaders.

Indianapolis workshop

Indianapolis workshop

We started with a big challenge that put the participants in the deep end of the pool. (I’m not sharing the task since some of you may be in one of our upcoming workshops and I don’t want you to get a head-start!)  The point is that the participants saw cross-curricular connections to this activity.  This is important because teachers, in general, want to see how any new thing connects to the curriculum they are responible for.  One of the nice characteristics of 3D printing is that virtually any activity cuts across all the STEM subjects, and many can even be connected to other subject areas – including fine arts, history, and others. From our perspective, the critical element was having the participants see themselves as designers.  Toward that end, we made sure they had access to several 3D design tools rather than just focusing on a single tool like Tinkercad, for example.  The fact is that some kinds of designs are easier in some tools than in others, and the more choices teachers and students have, the more likely they will be to create incredible designs. Some teachers felt that recipes for projects were appropriate, and they did projects from our book The Invent to Learn Guide to 3D Printing in the Classroom, since these projects are already in recipe form. We had plenty of assistance from Kim Brand and his colleagues at 3D Parts Mfg.  They provided the printers we used, and handled all the logistics so all Norma and I had to do was show up with our handput packages for everyone. Since that workshop we have been contacted to conduct more workshops around the country.  The 3D printing revolution is ready for prime time!

Our upcoming workshop explores many things, including how to extrude two-dimensional graphics created with TurtleArt into three-dimensional shapes that can bed for many things – including pressing patterns into clay for decorative tiles.  The original idea for this project came from a great blog by Josh Burker (http://goo.gl/cjuBrH).

The following Animoto video shows a project done (with some help from us) by our 7-year-old Granddaughter, Bianca.

She will be coming to our 3D Printing in Education workshop in Indianapolis later this week.  From fine arts to STEM education, 3D printing is a powerful tool!

 

Regular readers know that I usually post longer blogs on particular topics, but we have an event coming up that should be of interest to many of you.

On July 23, we  will be doing a hand’s on workshop in Indianapolis introducing educators to both the software and hardware associated with making things.  Every participant goes home with full working software for their own use, and with an understanding on how 3D printing fits into the STEM curriculum.  Information can be found here – www.3DpartsED.com

After the workshop, we’ll post a report on how it went.  Needless to say, we are prepared to do this workshop anywhere, so you should contact us to schedule a workshop in your area:

I have two 3D printers already, and am familar with several others that look interesting.  In my quest to stay on top of this dynamic field, a few weeks ago I got a da Vinci 1.0 3D printer from Studica (www.studica.com/XYZprinting),  a company whose focus is on hardware and software products for education.  Studica sells a complete line of 3D printers, but the one that caught my attention was the da Vinci.  This machine retails for $499, which is staggeringly low when you look at the system.  First, it has a very large print volume – 20cm by 20cm by 20cm.  This makes it one of the largest print beds in the under $2,000 printer category.  The ABS filament is provided in nicely designed cartridges that don’t cost an arm and a leg.  The overall look of the printer is quite elegant.  The transparent case lets you see everything as it is printing (especially if you turn on the interior light.)  A built-in display lets you do a lot of tasks (such as loading or changing filament) without having a computer attached.

img_davinciThis printer uses a glass print bed that you coat with a thin layer of glue from a regular glue stick.  The advantage of this adhesive method is that you don’t generally need to print using a “raft” – a layer of plastic put down by the nozzle  before the parts are printed.  Another nice touch is that the print nozzle is automatically cleaned after printing and any extra filament strands are placed in a box that can be removed later to get rid of scraps.  The internal hardware looks very well designed.  In fact, just looking inside this machine made me think I was looking at a very high end printer!

As with any 3D printer, it is essential to be sure the print bed is calibrated properly, otherwise the parts will look awful.  The da Vinci printer is calibrated at the factory, but, in shipping, the calibration screws may get jarred from their optimal positions.   Fortunately, this is easy to fix, and the technical support team sent me a link to a short video to show, step by step, how to align the print bed.  The print head has a special electrode on it that is brought into contact with the build plate hardware at three locations.  The built-in display then lets you know what adjustments are needed, or, if it is in the range of automatic alignment, to accept the new settings.  In my experience, this task only needs to be done once.

da vinci softwareAs for printing, you simply connect the printer to your computer using a USB port and run the supplied software.  From this program you load a file you’ve created or downloaded in the form of an STL file – the format most often used on 3D printers.  Once you press the Print button, the print bed is heated to about 100C while your object model is sliced into layers so the part can be built layer by layer.  Once printing has started, the built-in display lets you know how long the print job will take.  If you want, you can disconnect your computer from the printer at this point so it can be used for other things (like designing more things to print!)

Once the printer is finished with a job, the bed is cooled down and moved to the bottom to make it easy to remove your design.  The manufacturer provides a plastic scraper to separate the part from the bottom of the build plate.  My experience is that, once the part has cooled down, the plastic contracts just a bit, and it is easy to snap the part from the plate, leaving a very smooth finish on the bottom, and the build plate ready to be cleaned and coated with a new thin glue layer.

As for print quality, the parts are not quite as nicely finished as those I make on my Afinia printer, but for most school projects it is pretty good.  The downside is that this printer takes a lot of time to print projects.  In a school setting, time is important; but the large build plate might let you print several student projects at a time, making this less of an issue.

Overall, I rate the industrial design very high.  The price is unbelievably low.  Technical support is wonderful.  The only downsides when compared with more expensive printers is the print time and slightly reduced print quality.  Taking everything into consideration, the da Vinci 1.0 is a good buy for those wanting to get involved in 3D printing.  Later, some may choose to scale up to more expensive printers with higher print quality and faster speed, but, even then, this printer will get a lot of use!

 

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