Maker Profile

Who are you and what do you make?

My teaching and research relates to plastics product design and manufacturing. Making for me has multiple meanings and motivations. As an instructor, Making helps to form conceptual connections between abstract/academic content and real/practical experiences. Making helps to provide students with grounding through testing of implemented designs. It is one thing to see a computer model or animation of a design, but quite another to hold the embodiment of the design in your hands and see how a client really uses it. Making is so empowering for students; they love to keep the things that they’ve Made.

As an engineering practitioner and researcher, I Make all kinds of things such as functional prototypes for commercial new product development to more advanced technologies such as manufacturing processes and sensors via funded research. Most of this work is based on my understanding of the guiding physics and design principles. I use computer simulation extensively, including simulations I’ve coded myself. But, ultimately, we always Make the system to verify that our designs are fit for purpose. There is a lot of creative tension between modeling/simulation and Making/validation.

What's the favorite thing you've made?

There are many favorite student projects. In the introduction to design course here, we have each student Make their own custom Lego-type cube that we are continuously assembling into a larger monument that we hope will endure the ages so that they can come back to visit as alumni. Later in the course, they do a service-learning project; last semester they Made a working transmission for a canal gate that is being used by the Tsongas Industrial History Museum. In the senior-year Process Control course, we had students extrude their own filament from plastic pellets, then Make tensile specimens. Their custom filament and processes far exceeded those of Makerbot and Stratasys. (We’re researching rheological and structural modeling to support optimization of custom materials.)

In terms of my own favorites, I worked as a design engineer at General Electric on dozens of commercial products… my favorite might be an internal chassis for a Black & Decker circular saw… I tip my hat to all those engineers who Make elegant components nobody ever sees! More recently, I’ve Made some neat machine and sensors that provide better observability and controllability in plastics processing. I also Make at home… from a nice chicken coop with solar roofing to improvising a new clutch cable on my worn out snowblower. Not all of it is awesome, but it works for me.

What's your go-to Maker skill and/or tool?

The drill, followed by the Makerbot. The drill is just such an awesome tool; everybody should invest in a good drill with adjustable speed, adjustable torque, built-in magnetic catch plates, and guide light. The Makerbot is also great. I really love that we can use our own filaments, tweak the machine design, optimize the process, and use it for a lot of purposes. There is so much opportunity with new materials coming on-line and design of multi-material systems. We haven’t seen anything yet!

What's been your biggest Making challenge?

I am currently designing a new type of coffee machine. I love coffee, and I believe that this coffee machine design could be really popular. My biggest Making challenge is not having enough time to work on it given other responsibilities. At night, sometimes, I dream of the designs – I see the components moving in my mind – and it will take patience and perseverance to Make those dreams become a reality.

A runner-up is not knowing the best design at the onset. If I knew the best design from the onset, I could crank it out in a couple hours… the whole thing. Yet, there is a universe of possible solutions of which I am unaware. It takes time to really reason through what the design is about, different potential solution strategies, availability of components/materials, what constraints are dominating, and how to trade-off different aspects of the design. Here, again, it comes down to patience and perseverance.

How would you define 'Maker culture'?

‘Maker culture’ is ‘empowering people to realize their dreams.’

How is Maker culture transforming your campus?

I’d love to say that Maker culture is empowering all our students to realize their dreams. The reality is that many students are so consumed by our consumer culture and the hard realities of daily life, that they are oblivious to potential opportunities to Making. It is hard to Make if you don’t make time for Making, and it is hard to Make when you can’t make time for Making because to are working to eat.

Those faculty and students who can and do embrace the ‘Maker culture’ tend to see life a little differently. Not the world as it is, but the world as it could be. It is not about having rose-colored glasses, but rather prismatic views into different possibilities. The question is not what can we Make, but what should we Make.

We can all do better, faculty and students alike, to realize all our human potential.

How can Making contribute solutions to big problems?

To me, Making is a way of empowering people to recognize and fulfill opportunity. There are many “grand challenges” like fusion, understanding the brain, climate change, and others. But is not the grandest challenge the realization of all human capability?

We all have a lot to contribute. Making can help to motivate and assist us to realize solutions. Making will contribute to the solution of the big problems by bringing lots of minds into the fold and helping us to try new things.

What are the challenges facing Making in higher education?

There are several challenges for Making. Perhaps the most difficult is linking discipline-specific content knowledge to Making-oriented projects. Many implementations are straightforward, but others will require a lot of creativity and additional work on the part of faculty and students to realize. There is also the nitty-gritty problem of measuring student performance with respect to educational outcomes. It may sound nerdy, but from an accreditation program, we need to certify that each student has achieved competence. Student motivation and contribution may tend to very significantly in Making-oriented projects.

Why do you think Making is an important 21st century skill for students?

Making is important to the extent that students find it motivating and empowering. Everyone should be exposed to Making, but not everyone need embrace or practice it. We all have lots to contribute in different ways, so I believe that depth and excellence and diversity of thinking/skills are vital to humanity.  

What advice would you give to someone who is new to Making?

Have fun, work with others and share what you know! When the going gets tough, persevere and believe in yourself. You can do it!