I’m a Mechanical Engineering student interested in product design. I am motivated by human-centered design and user research, as I believe it leads to the most powerful design choices, but I also intrinsically love the process of making. It’s empowering and brings people together by helping them share ideas.
Last semester, for a course called Musical Accoustics and Instrument Design, I created a new musical instrument which requires 2 people to play. It’s called the Lothloritar, after the forest in The Lord of The Rings, because the final instrument is made of a big plank of wood from the Yale Forest which still has the bark attached. It’s a string instrument, and each player frets two strings for the other to pluck and plucks two that the other is fretting. I really wanted to get at the collaborative, improvisatory aspect of music-making, and create an instrument which would encourage teamwork and challenge musicians to communicate completely.
My favorite tool is the laser cutter, and I love to think about how to make 3D objects out of flat materials. It’s much faster than the 3D printers (at least the ones that are currently available), and the burnished edges on laser cut wood are so beautiful! You really have to think about how you’re laying out the cut and design it well, but then it prints super quickly.
My biggest making challenge so far has been trying to replicate a cicada tymbal (the organ that makes that loud buzzing sound) for a museum exhibit. It was a group project for a class, and we really had to think outside the box to find materials that showed what was happening biologically in a clear way. Zipties ended up being really good to simulate the cartilage-like ribs, surprisingly!
Maker culture is the kind of thing Ms. Frizzle cultivated in her classroom. “Make mistakes, get messy!” A go-for-it, supportive community which recognizes that making things is a way of learning in itself.
Maker culture brings science and engineering into the other disciplines and shows how cool these fields can be. It opens up technical spaces to people studying English and International Relations and Music—making for a rich, interdisciplinary exchange for everyone involved!
Making can contribute solutions by putting ideas into the tangible world we live in. It forces ideas to stand up to the test of reality and pushes them to grow faster than they would otherwise. It’s a perfect way to enforce “fail early, fail often”—and I would add, learn lots along the way.
In a very technical way, making allows for communication between teams that can be hard to express in words only. Working together and having those physical demonstrations helps people share their ideas concretely, so we can collaborate on big problems more effectively.
Making can seem at odds with the theory-centric, problem-set based curriculum of university curriculum. But, I would say it pushes the theory to stand up to practice and also lets students learn the tangible skills of how to build things.
We live increasingly though technology, but we are also human beings in a physical world. I think it’s important to stay connected to that physicality. It also teaches you that most good things take iteration to make well, which extends to many other disciplines (writing, art, etc. It takes doing something many times before you get it right!).
Learn as many new skills as you can! But don’t get bogged down—feel free to focus on the ones that really fascinate you so you can get some true expertise. Also know that you don’t have to know every modeling program or programming language…familiarity with one or two does transfer over to others!