Monthly Archives: August 2013

Build Your Own Camera and Explore the Science and Engineering of Photography


As the number of gadgets and gizmos available for purchase grows, there is a decreasing number of opportunities for kids to build their own toys. It’s not only a matter of convenience; it’s become increasingly difficult for do-it-yourself projects to compete with cheap mass-produced products that incorporate fancy electronics. We’ve featured DIY resources and social networks in the past, but most of the instructions on these sites won’t help you build anything too fancy. Now, with the Bigshot that changes.

The project helps you build your own digital camera using a kit they provide, while exposing you to the science and engineering of photography. The accompanying site is extremely well-designed and is filled with educational materials covering everything from the camera construction process to the science of optics. Of course, the allure of building and owning your own digital camera is undeniable, and for $89 is worth exploring if you run a science club or simply want to excite the child engineers in your life.

How Transistors Work

Suppose you learned that transistors are a fundamental building block of modern electronics, and you decided to learn about how they function. If you looked at the first result in a google search you would see this Wikipedia article filled with technical details, but not that much beginner-friendly clarity. As with many such important concepts, explaining it at just the right level of detail to be both technical and accessible is a serious challenge.

To the rescue comes Derek Muller, creator of the Veritasium Youtube channel, who demystifies the idea behind transistors. His video features just the right type of animations and visual props to make a point without getting lost in technical details that would only be relevant to graduate students or scientists. If you’re interested in electronics, this six minute video is as good a starting point as any textbook or lecture.

Hackathons Coming to a University Campus Near You This Fall


The stereotype of a computer programmers is that of an antisocial person sitting in a cubicle or basement, staring at a computer screen late into the night. Although there may be some truth to this, writing code that matters often requires quite a bit of social interaction. None of the software that we use today would be around if it were not for the collaboration of thousands of software engineers who exchanged ideas, fixed each others bugs, and perhaps even provided moral support.

For young programmers, getting together with their peers as well as with seasoned veterans is an educational experience that elevates programming from homework assignments and tests to serious product development that can affect lives. This October MIT is hosting its annual hackathon, a three day get-together for college students and high school students who are eighteen years old or older, that serves as an engineering fest and competition. Students can build anything they want while sharing ideas with fellow participants and learning from invited experts. A few weeks later, Yale is hosting its inaugural hackathon with a similar format. If you’re an undergraduate interested in the software industry, either event is the place to be. If you teach computer science and your college or high school does not host hackathons, you should consider organizing them as a way to get students to work together on exciting projects.

The Five Second Rule: A Simple Everyday Question Leading To Quantum Mechanics and Biology

Sometimes the simplest question can lead down a deep rabbit hole to new worlds. How fast germs contaminate food that falls on the floor is a good example of such a question. When you start to think about it, you realize that you don’t quite now what it means for two objects to touch, and when you start analyzing the microscopic and then the quantum mechanical details, you cross multiple scientific disciplines.

This is the intellectual journey that Michael Stevens goes on in his video that debunks the “five second rule,” a popularly held belief that food that falls on a dirty floor is safe to eat if it is picked up quickly enough. One of the main benefits of this type of video is its ability to connect seemingly unrelated issues and motivate viewers to conduct their own thought experiments. You may think it’s a silly question, but you’re sure to be surprised by at least some aspects of the answer.