The Museum began the summer with a series of five individual projects diverse enough to satisfy the interest of any child out early from school. Flashy pinball machines told adventure stories. Battery-powered cars, dressed up like animals, spaceships, and bulldozers, changed direction at the flick of a switch. On Wednesday, students tested their castle construction skills as fortified walls complete with working drawbridges rose up above murky moats. Boats and sea monsters braved rough water, and robots spun and waved their arms in elaborate dances.
Elucidating the Neural Circuitry
Underlying Multisensory Decision-Making in Drosophila
by Alex Buhimschi
This summer, I am working in Yale’s Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology in the lab of Dr. Michael N. Nitabach. The aim of this summer research is to train fruit flies to associate visual cues (e.g. the colors green or blue) with aversive stimuli (e.g. a pulsed electric shock) and then determine whether they can retain these memories. Therefore, flies trained to associate the color green with a shock should learn to avoid green even in the absence of shock. Later, we want to test the same type of conditioning on mutant flies with subsets of their dopaminergic neurons either activated or suppressed to identify which specific neurons are involved in the multisensory decision making process.
With the help and expertise of Josh Revkin, we used the museum’s ShopBot to build a new training rig capable of both classical and operant conditioning because it allows us to deliver shocks to either half of our arena. The new design uses two parallel coils spaced closely together so that when a fly comes in contact with two adjacent rails, it completes the circuit and receives a shock. An arduino controls the frequency (pulsed or continuous) and position (right or left) of shocks as well as the colors (blue, green, or red) of the LED backlight board. So far this work has challenged me to apply skills I learned as an apprentice like engineering, electronics, and programming. I am very thankful for the exposure the museum gave me to integrating these disciplines in new and creative ways.
Check out the New Haven Independent’s article on last Friday’s “Hello Girls!” program.
The Make Movement is easy to recognize, difficult to describe. In a Venn Diagram, the circles of the Museum and the Movement overlap generously. But that doesn’t immediately identify lessons to guide our planning.
Gleeson Ryan, a senior apprentice who is a freshman at Penn has drafted the following quick overview to point to questions all apprentices should recognize. She emphasizes she is not an expert, just a curious and impartial student. She will welcome your comments.
We will follow this beginning with other resources and questions.
Maker Notes ~Gleeson Ryan
The Maker movement is a culture of people who want to build things, across disciplines and skill levels. It provides literature and ideas to help people begin to learn skills and innovate. In their own words, the goal is to “expand beyond construction kits of early childhood (i.e. legos) to meld diverse disciplines…into ambitious projects.” The focus is on open-ended projects, creating anything you can think of. “If you can imagine it, you can make it.” The movement is also very social. Making itself is community-based, with groups sharing workshops together and teaching and individual mentoring being a significant part of the process. There is also a strong media presence in Maker culture, ranging from Make Magazine, full of ideas for projects, to a user-driven database of videos documenting and giving instructions for thousands of projects.The Eli Whitney Museum is compatible with Make for several reasons:
-We share the same capacity for interdisciplinary thought. We use every material, subject, and building process imaginable, and seek new media: from sewing to electronics.
-We have a community focus as well, often during the summer encouraging classes to build a large-scale project together. We look for projects in many places, from Arvind Gupta to our own artists.
-Neither the Museum nor Make is always concerned with the outward appearance of final projects. Make focuses on the process of construction and prefers builds that show this process with an unfinished style. Many EWM projects celebrate their construction as well, with circuit boards that show their workings, etc.
The Museum qualifies as a Makerspace because:
-Makers suggest wheeled tables to promote the easy rearrangement and recomposition of work areas to suit many purposes. We also rearrange constantly to seek the best configuration.
-We expose rafters and some unfinished surfaces (brick), which is suggests our appreciation of construction.
-However, we could provide more places to plan, such as whiteboards.
The Eli Whitney Museum is different from Make, though:
-Maker workshops are often smaller than the Museum, are targeted towards older children. This leads to a stronger mentorship aspect, with adults overseeing typical projects on an individual basis. Children are taught how to use power tools and do difficult building on their own, with much personal instruction and supervision.
-Staff tends to do the planning rather than the children. They are usually able to assemble a project after hearing instructions, but rarely are expected to draw and organize a building plan on their own.The Eli Whitney Museum could move towards this movement in a few ways:
-Make encourages extensive documentation. This means describing, photographing or filming every step of the construction process so that future makers can replicate or draw from it. Though the Museum saves models of projects, more thorough preservation is absent, which makes it difficult to share with others. The pages on the website documenting important experiments, as well as recent videos such as the marble tree, are steps towards the goal of recording and sharing
builds, but should become a more important aspect in order to really engage with other Makers.
-The Make movement is very open-ended, usually entailing making something from scratch, whereas the Museum often supplies building kits which children assemble. Part of this is because of the age of children restricts technical ability and because the short-term camp time frame does not allow for very many errors to accompany its trials. One Make mantra, though, is “Failure is an option,” and the Museum could potentially benefit by giving campers opportunities to create anything they want, providing certain guidelines and materials, as well as extra supervision.