The thrill of DIY electronics

23 Jun

Our summer camp program will begin in about two weeks. This is the time we  start looking at empty spots in our schedule and thinking about what we can do with them. One thing that is still missing is an electronics activity for our Grade 8-10 kids.

Now, while I have worked in the Department of Physics & Astronomy for almost 5 years, the last time I took a physics course was in first year undergrad. So the memory of how electronics work is a vague one. This is a pity because we have so many cool things in the department (3D print, water jet cutter, machine shop, you name it) – I just had no time. BUT this is work, right? So I sat down and started working on it.

Originally my coop student came up with a light-sensing electrical fans. “eh…kinda boring,” I said (I know, I was harsh haha). “What about something that moves?” “Like a car? Can these motors do that?” This went on for a while, and I started putting things on the breadboard, occasionally not knowing what the components are doing (“eh, what’s a mosfet?”). But I was pretty determined. I broke a LED and a light sensor in the process (“I smell something burning…”), but luckily my coop student figured it out for me 😉

Anyways, this is what we ended up putting together! It’s a light sensing car: the switches control whether you want it to be in the light sensing mode or not. And when there is no light, it stops running but turns on the LED light.

(I don’t have a video of it running because it was too hard to film that in my office, but it does work really well. Also, it is not a solar-powered car – I don’t think the power input would have been enough, plus the car is too heavy, but maybe we will try that later on)

The circuit is messy at the moment, so he is working on cleaning up the circuit, perhaps changing the switch to something smaller/simpler. Once we finish, we plan to put the instructions up on Instructables. Of course, the camp kids will be able to build these cars during the camp.

But, the really cool thing is that we put this together!! This is so exciting – I guess this is why many people are behind the Maker movement. I also told my coop student that I will brag about it for another few weeks. Haha.



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