Project Profile

Goals of the project

This interdisciplinary undergraduate/graduate course has the following goals: (1) to expose students to the idea of “open source science” and the model of “commons-based peer production” over the Internet; (2) to allow them, in a team, do-it-yourself or together environment, to take on a project of their own design or idea using relatively low-cost open source scientific hardware (e.g., arduinos, 3D design/printing) to address an environmental problem or to conduct some scientific research; (3) to implement these projects over the course of the semester in an iterative “research-implement-test-reflect-report back” cycle; and (4) to undertake some “maker” service learning outreach to the local middle school through showcasing their projects or participating in afterschool “maker” programming. This course was taught, not on campus, but in a local nonprofit organization’s building – Amherst Media in Amherst Massachusetts – where we are creating a town-gown makerspace to encourage this sort of collaboration between college students and local schools, and to grow a maker community between the 5-colleges and the town. The course was offered not only to UMass Amherst students, but also had participation from students from Mt Holyoke and Amherst College. This is a great example of the new town-gown collaboration we are creating between UMass,, and the local schools. 

Nature of the Collaboration

At the center of this was a formal class on open science and “making” following new pedagogical approaches such as “flipped” classes, team-based learning and service learning, with an outreach component to the public schools. To pull this course off, it required collaboration among all of the participants listed in Question 2, in the ways they supported the class as described in Question 2.

The closing of the class will be with a community wide maker “show and tell” in an evening in December at Amherst Media. This will include presentations by the students in this class but also presentations by the middle school children participating in the after school program. This event requires all the collaborators participation. 


1) Project conceptualization and implementation, following the iterative cycle of “research-implement-test-reflect-report back”

2) Participation in an online open science commons-based peer production community called “”. Regular postings to this live, global site of research notes.

3) Learning and programming of arduino-based devices with environmental sensors.

A variety of projects were implemented, including:

  • An open source tethered submarine for fish ecology research called the “OpenROV”
  • An arduino-device for sampling ozone in air;
  • An arduino-device for wildlife tracking (GPS collar) and 3D designed and printed shell;
  • An arduino device for water pollution data collection, and the investigation for a package to contain it that keeps the arduino protected from the water but allows sensors in the water;
  • A do-it-yourself hydroelectric generator built from scratch;
  • Balloon-based aerial photography for invasive species mapping
  • A sound recorded using an arduino for research on birds in south america


Arduino, equipment such as their balloon mapping kit; 3D printer; Geographic Informtion Systems; various tools for construction of the OpenRov device and for the hydroelectric generator. Straps and truck for moving the helium tank and the 5’ diameter balloon to the field for the balloon mapping project. 


The process for all the projects basically followed the research-implement-test-reflect-report back. Class sessions were either devoted to team based work or full class status reports and discussions of problems and class brainstorms. For example, in our last class we realized three different projects (OpenROV, water pollution monitor, and dog collar) had the same issue of keeping the arduino device away from water.

Some projects made more progress than others. Often non-technology hurdles took longer than expected (like the construction of the water protection devices). 


Each project had their own major milestones. For example, the student making the GPS collar had a milestone when she successfully recorded or datalogged GPS locations on the arduio. A second milestone was her 3D design using sketchup for her collar container device for the arduio. The balloon mapping project had a milestone when we successfully launched the first camera and took our first near-infrared aerial photographs. The OpenROV project is very complex, so the team has taken most of the semester just building the open source device. They had power problems, which they just overcame yesterday. Other projects had similar milestones. 

Challenges encountered

Challenges for the lead instructor and for collaborator Paula Rees was in coordinating the equipment purchases needed for the class projects. Other challenges (for the lead instructor) were that student teams sometimes encountered problems where he could not really assist. But in these cases the students always helped each other brainstorm, and the other collaborators stepped in where possible.

Some of the projects taken on are too big for a one semester class. We are trying now to think about how this can be expanded to allow students to build, but then deploy and use the devices they have created.

A future challenge will be how to secure funding to pay for the equipment future students will need for their project. This was roughly $100 per project team. One possible way we will do this is through the lead instructor taking on a 1cr course for the honors program that pays a $2K stipend. That stipend will be used to purchase future supplies. But ideally, some institutional support will be provided perhaps for this equipment. There is also the possibility of a makerspace in our library that might have some technology available for students to use or borrow (e.g., 3D printers). 

Major outcomes

Major outcomes to date are prototypes of the projects listed above. Most are nearly complete with a major goal achieved. 

Innovations, impact and successes

The major innovation so far of this project is that we have run a successful first semester of a DIY open science maker class with participation of both undergraduates and graduate students and from not only UMass but other 5-college campuses. We also have had these students contribute to an after school program to mentor middle school children.