Monthly Archives: August 2010

Electroluminescent Wire: Make Crazy Light-up Costumes, Among Other Things…

By:  Alex Leffell, EWM apprentice

Electroluminescent wire, or EL wire, is a relatively cheap, energy efficient way to produce long continuous lines of glowing light.  I am looking into how the Museum can apply some of the endless possibilities of EL wire to new projects.

When a high voltage, high frequency current is applied to the wire, the electric field created excites the phosphor coating, causing it to glow.  This allows for flexible, uninterrupted light, unlike LED strip lighting.

The flexibility of the wire allows for a diverse array of possiblities…. From an awesome light up costume (instructions here), to cool ways to trick out your motorcycle.

Where EL wire will take us, we don’t yet know.  But we are certain it will be somewhere interesting.  Stay tuned.

Photo Credits:


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How I spent my summer vacation…

1…without a stitch…

Is it a caution of old age to be first grateful for safety? Our hammers, saws, awls, razor blades, scissors and sanders barely nicked the young hands we guided.  There were more skinned knees than knuckles to attend.  The 78 epi pens we logged in were ready, but unneeded.  The bees minded their own territory, and nuts were verboten.

2…in an ensemble…

The product of our workshop that you see is things:  sewn, flown, battery powered, sculpted, painted things.  What we see is the resourceful, disciplined, eager effort of a staff of 40.  The Apprentices range from the last of their middle school years to the last of their college years.  We ask none of them to work the full ten weeks.  So it takes a pool of 60 prepared apprentices to fill the summer’s weekly requirements.  So many skills, so many responsibilities.  They are a product of every hour of our work.

Each year a precious core of leaders moves on to internships, travel, and careers.  This year’s senior designers Olivia Mahler Haug and Mark Wesolowski are headed to Tulane and Penn State, respectively.  In a few weeks we’ll start again with a dozen 13 year-olds, knowing that with about 2000 hours  of training, they too could become the new design leaders.

3…in the company of masters…

Virtuosity is compelling.  Our students know this.  Al Volmer invested his many decades of aeromodeling wisdom in our novice builders.  Master designer Martha Burns trained our staff and students… some as young as 7, in the arts of “building” with needles and thread.  Susan Clinard and Alexis Brown brought the verve of the Art Institute of Chicago to young sculptors.  Artist/woodworker Sylvie Rosenthal returned to inspire mechanical birds based on her work that began here some twenty years ago.  And preeminent archaeologist Michael Coe graciously answered the questions of our young rebuilders of Tenochtitlan.

Alex:  Dr. Coe, why did the Aztecs eat dogs?

Dr. Coe: Apparently when dogs are fattened on avocados, they are quite tasty.

4…under Wanda’s watchful eye…

So many children, parents, babysitters, and staff.  How can we keep track?  Wanda Faison has an uncanny gift for knowing who everyone is, where they are, what they’ve left behind, and, if they are distracted, why.  We are not sure how she does it.  We know, and every child knows, that nothing can go wrong when Wanda is here.

5…in the shade…

Ten years ago we began a plan to systematically restore the site’s tree cover.  It was hot and humid this summer.  But a breeze comes up the river.  And the trees have begun to spread essential shade.

6…less wastefully…

We cut our solid waste pick-up in half.  We returned lunch bags and left-overs.  Parents knew just how much was getting eaten.  We sent 66 yards less “stuff” to land fills.

7…in other than words…

Words are not the best way to master the shapes and colors and connections of our projects.  Perhaps that’s how our summer got translated into so many languages.  We hosted children from Iraq, Romania, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Mexico, Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Eqypt, Israel, France, Switzerland, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, and England.  (And we’ve probably overlooked a few.)  Their voices enriched the shape and colors of every workshop.

8…exploring new directions…

We thrive on experiment.  Michael Brownstein introduced Scratch Programming developed at MIT.  Sally Hill and Martha Burns developed an elegant table loom that young teens could build, warp, and weave.  Apprentices translated 20 of English scientist  Neil Downie‘s remarkable experiments for the hands of novice tinkerers.

We worked with our CNC robot to tame horses:  1000 horses for the hordes of Gengis Khan.  Our motorized and puppet horses evolved dramatically from carrying Crash Test Dummy knights to Leonardo’s stable.  The remarkable British production War Horse will influence our work for the next year.  No, from this point on.

9…less predictably?…

Yes, the number of girls almost equaled the number of boys enrolled this summer.  We still struggled with balance.  Girls favored the Velveteen Rabbit, Micropottery, Sewing, and Elephant Parade.  Boys favored Analog Gamebuilder, Aeromodeling, and Crash Test Dummies.  Experiences equal but still asymmetrical.  We have work to do.

10…grateful for your trust…

Your children make this work.  Their curiosity, their patience, their inventiveness, their resilience, their fresh twists and wisdom fuel our effort.  Their imagination drives ours.


The Staff of the Eli Whitney Museum


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