I’m an assistant professor in the mechanical engineering department at the University of Delaware. I make and help others make solutions to their problems, whether they are serious or playful.
The favorite thing I have made is the SADbot (Seasonally Affected Drawing robot) in collaboration with Ben Leduc-Mills. It was installed in the window gallery at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center in Manhattan in 2010 and went to Artbots in Belgium that same year.
Arduino. It’s the first microcontroller I was introduced to and it has made interfacing with the physical world so much more fun and seamless than I previously knew it could be.
My biggest making challenge has been and continues to be getting out of my own way. Because I’m a traditionally trained engineer with a lot of project management experience, every idea I have for making gets bombarded with internal criticism (Is it worth your time? How do you know you’ll find the right materials? Will it cost too much?). I have learned to overcome this inner demon for the most part by not taking myself so seriously and just taking the first step in starting a project before the demon takes hold and shuts it down.
Maker culture is not a new thing, but a name put to an old thing: people who are curious enough about how the world works that they are not afraid to try to take things apart, make them better, design their own solutions to problems, and explore new technologies.
As collaborations between the various engineering and art departments strengthen, maker culture is starting to transform the campus through students and student opportunities from informal workshops and clubs to formal design courses.
Making is almost always interdisciplinary. Also, since it involves physical things, there is some element of planning involved to locate/buy the hardware, find the right widget, etc. Makers are well poised to tackle big problems because they are used to working in several fields to complete a single project, often collaborate with others with complementary expertise, and know how to get from start to finish on a project.
Engineering education generally embraces curricula and teaching methods that value the right answer. Professors and students alike are less comfortable with evaluating the physical products of making because it is often more subjective than a grade on a written exam or homework. I think as professors and students become more comfortable with the possibilities afforded by teaching by doing, not lecturing, the challenges surrounding making in higher education will fade.
The last few decades have seen making leave the K-12 classrooms as shop classes, art classes, and more have been cut in order to support math and reading standards. Also, the outsourcing and offshoring of a lot of manufacturing jobs led to a decrease in local demand for makers. However, as wages overseas climb and manufacturing returns to the US in different sectors, makers will be well poised to take advantage of these new opportunities.
Try everything that scares you! It’s easy to be intimidated by a new technology (programming, 3D printing, laser cutting, etc.) but I promise the hardest part is getting started. Everything is hard before you try it.