By Ken Howell
The second annual Champlain Mini Maker Faire was a huge success. Champlain College was out in force with booths for both the EMC and MFA. The Mini Maker Faire is a smaller regional version of its New York and San Francisco area counterparts. At these fairs, people engaged in a wide array of do-it-yourself projects, usually with a bent toward the high-tech, show off the things they’ve made, and celebrate this ethos that suggests an alternative to runaway consumerism. At a Maker Faire people are interested in making their own goods and helping others do the same. Some are practical business ventures and others are, well just crazy fun. There were lots of 3D printers, Steampunk artifacts, new product prototypes, rocket launches, a remote control snow blower, and one of my favorites, electronic toy-hacking by Jenn Karson of the Vermont Makers.
Our EMC undergraduate Maker Lab team has been making things all year and had many of them on hand to show off. My favorite however was squishy circuits, that is circuits using play-doh. People have been making play-doh at home for decades. The recipe which uses salt makes a pretty good conductor. You can also make it with sugar however, which makes it a pretty good insulator. Using both you can make some interesting circuits. Our team even increased the conductivity by heating the water first and supersaturating it with salt. Increase the salinity and you increase the conductivity. Add a few batteries, LED’s resistors and voila. I especially enjoyed a Mr. Bill with glowing eyes.
Meanwhile at the MFA booth, we were showing off recent experiments in projection mapping by MFA alum and Champlain College professor, Coby Brownell. The project used the leap controller interfacing with the Unity game engine to create an interactive landscape with buildings rising and falling based on hand gestures. A second year MFA student, Raphael Titsworth-Morin, had a prototype he worked up using a microphone as a wind sensor to control graphics on screen – in this case the approaching snow that will soon come to Vermont.
The Maker Faire has to be one of my favorite events in Vermont. I’m always amazed by the inventiveness of the community around me to solve real challenges and also have fun. It speaks to a rich history of independence and self-reliance here in Vermont. And Shelburne Farms as one of the original incubators of the sustainability movement and other agricultural innovations, provided the perfect background. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most idyllic and beautiful spots in New England.
Ken Howell is an Assistant Professor in the MFA in Emergent Media program, an artist, and a faculty lead at the Emergent Media Center where he works on a variety of projects. Lately he’s been busy helping to build the Maker movement in Vermont where he has been an organizer with the Maker Faire, working on a Makerspace here at Champlain College, building the Vermont Makers community, and helping Generator, a Makerspace opening early 2014 in Burlington. (full bio)