Featured Maker: Ken Olsen, Dawson Station Model Railroad

IMG_3682If you were at last year’s Eugene Mini Maker Faire, you may have noticed a table with an interesting juxtaposition of technologies — a model train set, right alongside the computer game Minecraft. The man responsible for putting these two projects was Ken Olsen. Ken is a hobbyist in such classic fields as model trains and rockets, but he is also fluent in the technologies that are now ubiquitous in the Maker world — Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

Ken created Dawson Station as a way to showcase how Arduino could be incorporated into traditional model train sets to add a greater level of control. He tells us that “I was so excited by the idea that I just wanted to share it with as many people as possible.” This led him to exhibit at area model railroad shows even before he discovered Maker Faire.

(Oh, and the Minecraft? That was an experiment in getting kids interested in programming using the Raspberry Pi version of the popular game.)

Since developing Dawson Station, Ken has been involved in a variety of projects that use Arduino, and has offered workshops in Corvallis and around the Willamette Valley to get young people involved in using them. Lately he’s been working with ChickTech, a Portland-based organization that gets girls and women interested in technology.

After last year’s Faire, Ken took Dawson Station to the Portland Mini, where he exhibited for his largest audience to date. Ken reports that it was “exhausting, and a little overwhelming at times, especially being a two day event.” But he was amazed by “the energy and the diversity of exhibits.”

We’re very pleased to have Ken back in Eugene again this year, where he will be exhibiting Dawson Station again, as well as offering a live presentation on why “it’s an amazing time to be a maker!” If you’d like to meet Ken and see Dawson Station in action, be sure to join us on June 7. And if you have an Arduino project like Ken’s that you’d like to share with our visitors, there’s still time to apply to be a maker. We hope to see you here!

Featured Makers: Eugene Weavers’ Guild


Maker Faire is a celebration of technology — both old and new. Although 3D printing, robotics, and other relatively new technologies seem to get the lion’s share of attention, the Maker Movement has also helped to spark renewed interest in traditional crafts. Researchers in education are coming to realize the value of “arts and crafts” in STEM learning, and are advocating for the reinstatement of arts education in the curriculum.

That’s why we’re very excited to host the Eugene Weavers’ Guild at this year’s Eugene Mini Maker Faire. The Guild has supported the weaving community in Eugene since 1946 with meetings, workshops, equipment sharing, a lending library, and much more. Guild members include both professional and hobbyist weavers at all skill levels. Meetings are held monthly, and nonmembers are welcome to attend. Make sure to check their photo gallery for some spectacular examples of their work.

The Guild will bring a variety of display items, as well as “weavettes,” which will allow visitors to try their own hands at a 5-minute weaving project and take home the result! We look forward to hosting the Eugene Weavers’ Guild on June 7. If you’d like to join them as a maker, it’s not too late! Visit our maker application page to submit your own exhibit idea for the Eugene Mini Maker Faire.

Your Annual Robotics Update

It’s been a great year for the South Eugene Robotics Team! You may remember them from previous Maker Faires… in 2012, their robot shot basketballs, and in 2013 it threw frisbees and climbed scaffolding. This year’s competition… well, it’s tricky to describe, but it involved the robots passing a giant ball among their teammates and scoring goals. It’s quite amazing to watch!

On March 21, SERT went to Wilsonville for their first district event of the season, and for the first time in the team’s history, they made it all the way to the final round! You can watch the second half of the two-match final below:

They followed up this performance with an impressive fourth-place finish at the Oregon State district event. All of this adds up to a ranking of 20th in the Pacific Northwest Region, and an invitation to the regional tournament in Portland this week! Congratulations to SERT on a great season thus far, and best of luck in Portland!

SERT isn’t the only local team that has had success in the robotics arena. The teams from Pleasant Hill High School and Junction City High School compete in the First Tech Challenge, a league that consists of smaller teams building smaller robots — this year, robots that can pick up and place blocks in a pendulum goal, among other things. Here’s Pleasant Hill in action:

The Gromit’s Grommets from Pleasant Hill had a spectacular season and placed first in this year’s state tournament. Both Pleasant Hill and Junction City attended the first-ever FTC West super-regional championship in Sacramento last month. 72 teams from 12 states competed in the tournament. Congrats to all of our local schools on a great season!

And if you want to see these robots in action, make sure to attend the Eugene Mini Maker Faire just two months from today! SERT and Pleasant Hill will both be represented, and we hope to see other teams as well.

This week at the Science Factory: Making Stuff!

outreach-community-logoAt the Science Factory, we don’t just save our maker activities for one day a year. Aside from all of our regular workshops and summer camps that feature building and tinkering, we’ve got a brand-new program for all of our visitors over Spring Break. We’ve partnered with the PBS NOVA series Making Stuff to bring a week of engineering activities to the museum floor. Join us each afternoon anytime from 1PM to 4PM as we try our hands at designing safer structures, faster cars, wilder “claws,” and colder air flow. Each activity is included with regular exhibit hall admission. We hope to see you here!

Why Making Matters

971980_10151973755784115_145808677_nHave you noticed how everyone’s been talking about makers lately? Last week at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, mythbuster and maker Adam Savage gave the keynote address (you can watch it here, but beware a few bits of salty language). Hardly a week goes by without 3d printers making the news — as a tool for improved plastic surgery, an all-in-one house builder, or even a maker of lifesaving surgical implants. As we found out a few months ago, even the White House wants to get in on the making game.

Obviously, we’re pretty excited when we see so much attention given to makers and making. But it’s worth stopping to remember the bigger picture: what does the “maker movement” do for us? Among many others, I see three main reasons why making matters:

  1. It reconnects art and science under the banner of creativity. As Adam Savage noted in his keynote, “Art and science have always been the twin engines pushing us forward as a species.” Only in recent years have we seen art and science as intellectual opposites. The more we can recognize them as creative endeavors, the more likely people will be to engage with them.
  2. It empowers individuals, especially kids, to pursue their creative instincts. Caine’s Arcade was big news last year, and this amazing creative project by a young boy certainly warranted the attention. On a smaller scale, we see this kind of pride in creativity at the Science Factory every time one of our visitors or campers yells, “Look what I made!” Families with children also join Eugene Maker Space in order to pursue their own building projects that a standard school curriculum wouldn’t allow. Kids who are encouraged in their creative pursuits are likely to continue them as adults.
  3. It has the power to change lives and communities for the better. A volunteer and member recently pointed me to this video about Kelvin Doe, a 15-year-old from Sierra Leone who builds electronics from recycled and reclaimed parts. This hobby led him to create his own low-power radio station for his community, a project that earned him a visit to MIT. Kelvin’s story is just one of many, many examples of makers who have improved their communities through their creativity and ingenuity.

What do you think? How does making matter to you? How does the maker movement improve the Eugene community? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! (And if you’re ready to show off what you’ve been making, don’t forget to get your application in to the Eugene Mini Maker Faire on June 7!)

An Educator and “Make Evangelist” Reflects on the Movement

Jen Wyld has been a friend of the Science Factory for many years, and a friend of the Eugene Mini Maker Faire since its inception. You may have seen her at our previous Faires hosting tables on crocheting and felting (that’s her above, on the left). Or you could have caught her at last year’s Maker Faire Bay Area presenting on Montessori schools. Jen is a PhD student in the Free Choice Learning program at Oregon State University. She is also on the board of directors at MECCA, a great community resource for Eugene makers. Needless to say, we were quite interested when Jen posted some thoughts on the maker movement, and her role in it, on the Free Choice Learning Lab blog.

In her first post, Jen reveals that she is a “Make evangelist,” but does not consider herself a “Maker” in the sense that many people use it today. She does not play with electronics, 3D printers, Arduino, or other high-tech tools and toys associated with hackerspaces. (For the most part, neither do I!) I think, however, that by taking a step back to look at the whole arena of making, beyond the hot new technologies, Jen could easily claim the title of “maker.”

It may be that cutting-edge technologies like 3D printers are grabbing the headlines, but the Maker Movement depends on both old and new technologies to succeed. From what I have seen, Maker Faire has always been a celebration of all forms of human creativity and ingenuity — whether with the latest high-tech equipment or with tools as old as civilization. It’s the reason that the Eugene Mini Maker Faire has featured shoemaking and woodworking (and felting!). Some of the best Maker projects actually unite old and new technologies — like Arduino and model railroading.

In her second post, Jen highlights the many facets of the Maker Movement that make it so exciting for the world of education. Most importantly, she points out that the Maker Movement offers the chance for everyone “to become more active as producers, as well as consumers of technology.” I couldn’t agree more!

We love to hear what people in the community think about Maker Faires and the Maker Movement. Share your thoughts with us below, or get in touch by e-mail.

Welcome back! It’s on…

The Eugene Mini Maker Faire rides again! The third-annual event will take place on Saturday, June 7 from 10AM to 4PM at the Science Factory. The Call for Makers is now open, and we can’t wait to hear about your projects and ideas for this year’s event. Stay tuned right here or follow us on Facebook for the latest updates as planning for the Faire ramps up. See you soon!

Thank You!

The second annual Eugene Mini Maker Faire has wrapped up, and what an amazing day! I’ll be back in a few days to post some pictures. In the meantime, we’d like to offer a HUGE thanks to the dozens of talented makers who took part in the Faire, as well as the hundreds of visitors who participated. If you attended the Faire and enjoyed yourself, please leave a comment here or on our Facebook page. And if you have suggestions on how to improve for future years, we’d love to hear from you too! Thanks again for making the day a success.


Friday afternoon at the Science Factory, and the front lawn is absolutely jam-packed with hordes of…


Tomorrow, however, will be an entirely different story. When the Eugene Mini Maker Faire gets under way at 10, our lawn will have 3D printers, an electric motorcycle, a velomobile, paper airplanes, handcrafted shoes, delicious food from Sammitch!, and much, much more. (And that’s not even counting all the cool things *inside* the museum! Have I mentioned the frisbee-throwing robot lately?)

Most importantly, we hope that YOU will be here to meet all of our makers, see the fantastic things they have built, and perhaps be inspired to create something of your own. Tickets are only $6 for adults and children, $5 for seniors, or $3 if you’re a Science Factory member. We can’t wait to see you tomorrow!

Squishy Circuits at the Science Factory

The Science Factory is thrilled to be hosting so many makers from around the Northwest this Saturday. But we’re bringing out some maker activities of our own, too! We’ve already mentioned the role that making plays in our educational philosophy, and we think that the Eugene Mini Maker Faire is the perfect opportunity to showcase some of our favorite building and tinkering activities.

One of our big hits has been “squishy circuits,” an idea we first heard about from a TED Talk by AnnMarie Thomas. (AnnMarie is currently the executive director of the Maker Education Initiative.) Starting with the simple insight that Play-Doh conducts electricity, she and her colleagues developed a series of lesson plans that teach kids about electric circuits in a way that is fun, open-ended, and engaging — because who doesn’t like playing with Play-Doh?

We will have a table of squishy circuits at the Eugene Mini Maker Faire so that kids (and kids at heart!) can come up with their own creative circuit sculptures. You’ll be able to check out some of our fun hands-on exhibits, too, and even get tickets to a show in our Exploration Dome! All that, plus our jam-packed maker lineup, makes this an event you won’t want to miss. Advance tickets are available until tomorrow night.