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With Inventive Projects, Physics Class Joins DIY Movement

Professor Dwight Whitaker's Instructables lab
Professor Dwight Whitaker's Instructables lab
Students working on a project in Professor Dwight Whitaker's Instructables lab

Tapping into the booming do-it-yourself movement, students in Professor Dwight Whitaker’s electronics class will see their final projects live on long after the semester ends.

Students will post their work to Instructables, a popular DIY website featuring step-by-step instructions for thousands of projects, and invites comments, ratings and suggestions from users.

Ready to unveil their work to classmates this week, students in Whitaker’s lab have been developing, fine-tuning and testing their projects, which include a jacket that creates musical sounds, a camera stabilizer, a harmonizer and a quadricopter.

Last year, students posted 25 lab projects to Instructables, supplying directions for a skateboard speedometer, sleep-cycle alarm clock and other devices. Several of the projects also were featured on the Instructables home page and in its weekly newsletter, which has a readership of more than one million.

“It's been great for the students to see their projects reach a global audience,” says Amanda Ghassaei ’11, who joined the Instructables team after graduating from Pomona. “One of the most fun things about publishing open source projects online is to see what other people do with your code and schematics, often people will use pieces of your project or ideas in ways you hadn't even thought of.”

A physics major at Pomona, Ghassaei took Whitaker’s electronics class in her senior year. “Dwight encouraged us to participate in the open sharing of code and schematics online and asked us to submit our final projects as an instructional YouTube video as well as a write-up,” she says. When Ghassaei landed at Instructables, she suggested the site as a home for the electronics lab projects.

“The budget for each one is modest, well under $100 per student, but at the end of the day students come up with some pretty remarkable projects,” says Whitaker.

Inspired by a love of dancing, Madeline McGaughey ’16 is constructing a jacket that will use acceleration receptors to communicate movement to sound files. “I do a lot of blues dancing, including a type called micro-blues, where you and your partner make small movements to small musical changes,” says McGaughey. “I thought it would be cool to do it the other way around by having sound respond to movement.”

Jonah Grubb ’16 and Andreas Biekert ’16, who share an interest in shooting videos, are building a brushless gimbal, a self-stabilizing system for cameras that uses a sensor and motors to detect and reverse motion. The two physics majors, who have relied on internet instructions for their project, hope their Instructables how-to will give others an economical way to recreate the device.

“As it seems right now, there isn’t any completely open source for this entire project,” says Grubb. “The control of the motors is kept secret because a lot of people are selling the boards that do all this for you. So if we could figure it out and make it work, it could be really cool, and open it up for a lot more people.”

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