Working Hard, Playing Hard: London city models, maker spaces, and materials libraries

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Sums up the week.

Getting back on track after a vacation is always hectic. A road sign I passed today announcing “CHANGED PRIORITIES” summed up the ironies I’ve faced. My first week back (after a holiday in France and conferences in Denmark and Greece) has been a flurry of activity. I had to put a lot of time into recovering lost documents and preparing government applications, and that wasn’t expected. I anticipated being in Dublin this past week, but fate (and lost IDs) sent me in other directions.

Besides trying to make headway with research projects, file expense reports, get back into my gym routine and recover the plethora of bank and identification cards I lost in Greece, I did make time to meet colleagues and explore material libraries, maker labs, and the massive city model of London. The list below attests, though, that I actually got some “real work” done. I’m making progress despite the detours!

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With Dr. Anne Gardner, the new Deputy Editor of AAEE

Chronological highlights of the past ten days have been:

  • Quick catch-ups with both my supervisors, Profs. Nick Tyler and John Mitchell. John is the incoming Editor in Chief of IEEE Transactions on Education, so we had much to discuss.
  • Submitting two abstracts for the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) 2019 conference.
  • Providing input on a curriculum proposal under development at our Centre and module (course) planning for our new MSc in Engineering Education.
  • Lunching with guest academic, Prof. Euan Lindsay, of Australia’s Charles Sturt University and making with him a quick trip to the Building Centre’s exhibition on spatial modeling by Zaha Hadid’s lab and the giant model of London.
  • Touring UCL’s Institute of Making, its materials library and maker space.
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  • Thomas Empson’s fabulous RES2 presentation
  • Attending a dynamic, well-structured, and highly successful milestone presentation by my Ph.D. student, Thomas Empson of London South Bank University (LSBU). Delighted to have contributed to Thomas’ success.
  • Touring LSBU’s extensive maker labs (theater and cave for virtual reality, robotic arms, 3D printers using all sorts of materials, high-end laser cutters, and old-school lathes, milling machines, spray booths. Room after room after room. An amazing set of resources for the LSBU engineering community. I was astounded. They also have a small materials library.
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  • A product of LSBU’s extensive Maker Lab, this shell in the shape of a skull was printed in a liquid that contains emulsion and hardens when struck by a laser beam in the printer. Then the remaining liquid is drained away.
  • Lunching with guest academic, Prof. Anne Gardner, incoming Deputy Editor of the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education and another quick trip to visit the Building Centre.Gaining official approval from the UCL Ethics Committee to proceed with two research projects.
  • Completing UCL’s new online training program for data protection (GDPR), earning 100% on the final test.
  • Reading a UCL publication of guidelines for research staff. This is a very organized place!
  • Reading an incoming manuscript for the special focus journal issue and helping manage the review process.
  • Meeting with an expert in phenomenographical research methods, Dr. Mike Miminiris, to plan for an upcoming project.
  • Scheduling dates for upcoming seminars at UCL (by Dr. Mike Miminiris) and DIT (by Dr. Bill Williams).
  • Meeting with Prof. Simon Philbin, the new Director of LSBU’s Natu Puri Institute (NPI) to discuss strategic direction for the Institute.
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Aongus studying the London model

Over the weekend, I decided to bring Aongus to the Building Center because he hadn’t been yet. We spent most of Saturday with the model of London (using its interactive learning tools and the videos), taking a sneak peek at an exhibition being mounted on modular construction, visiting the special exhibit on the history of the Centre, viewing the Hadid exhibition (mentioned above), and learning about commercially-available building products and materials in the Centre’s massive product library.

That makes THREE materials libraries and TWO extensive maker labs visited in a week! All these are pictured in the photo gallery below.

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New global rankings from THE

I discovered that the new global rankings of universities, by the Times Higher Education, has placed UCL at 14th in the world. Each rating system uses different variables and metrics, so it’s not surprising that this is a bit different than the QS system that has UCL at 7th globally.

On Saturday and Sunday, we also made time to immerse ourselves in London–including the rainstorm on Saturday (oh my). Aongus and I enjoyed delectable meals, including dim sum at Dim T, my favorite fix at Chipotle, and molten cookies at Kingly Court. Saturday evening, we enjoyed the opening of the film “A Star is Born.” On Sunday, Aongus and I visited the Churchill War Rooms.

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Hot off the presses @Usborne #STEM “Engineering Scribble Book” for kids. Loved offering guidance as Eddie and Darran developed the content! @Centre4EngEdu @CREATE_DIT. A university bookstore outside London replied to comments on my Twitter feed. @cccubookstore said “Engineering Scribble Books will be in stock tomorrow. Science Scribble Book on publication in November ;-)”

So far this week, I’ve reviewed feedback I’ve collected from colleagues on three important documents I’m preparing. I spent the better part of a day re-vamping a manuscript to address reviewer comments.

Also this week, I enjoyed meeting a new Ph.D. student at UCL, Aristos, who is studying tidal energy and knows Greek–he has helped me contact the police station in Greece (still no word on my lost items). I had lunch one day with my officemate, Sital, and learned more about her family’s heritage. I meet online with the board of the Research on Engineering Education Network (REEN) planning the 2019 Symposium (REES 2019) to be held in Cape Town July 10-12, 2019. I also met online with Dr. Bill Williams to plan his upcoming lecture and workshop topics.

Ending on a high note yesterday, I received a fun package in the mail–a copy of a book I helped create for kids. I served as the “expert advisor” for Usborne Publisher on a publication called Usborne STEM “Engineering Scribble Book.” It’s the first in a series and it looks great!

With all these unanticipated adventures, I’m wondering if I, rather than fate, will help set my own priorities for the upcoming week. Probably not!

Bread Board Games—DIT’s Electronics Workshops in Wexford

What a great weekend in Ireland, teaching four electronic engineering workshops for kids, mostly 6-8 years old, in Bunclody and Enniscorthy. I love working with the kids, and it’s always fun having a weekend outing with my friends from DIT.

DIT lecturer Frank Duignan invented the small hand held video games and instructions for helping kids assemble their own. Retired DIT lecturer Charlie Pritchard worked with local librarians to schedule these two dates, plus three more dates for workshops to be held around Wexford. Charlie also secured funding and ordered the parts from hither and yon. Then Frank and his son Sam prepared the parts. And the day before we set out for Bunclody, I helped Frank assemble the kits in our project room at DIT.

The photo gallery below shows three days of our adventure. You’ll see Frank and me assembling kits, and then sights I saw along the way from my home to the sunny southeastern corner of Ireland. You’ll see our two Friday workshops in Bunclody, our team dinner at the Pritchards’ home, and the village where my overnight hosts, the Hays, live. You’ll see some of the sights I got to take in with retired DIT lecturer Richard Hays, before Saturday’s events, and some lively fun we had between workshop sessions.

Mostly you’ll see young kids happily learning new skills, building their own video games, and operating their little devices with glee. You’ll see a bunch of teachers excited about what they do, and librarians dedicated to supporting them. You’ll see two secondary students, Oran and Sam (who were also there helping lead our booth at Dublin Maker just a few weeks ago), donating yet another day to teaching kids electronics.

I’m so lucky to know these folks–Frank, Richard, Charlie, Oran, Sam, Edith, and Geraldine–and get to help them give kids a taste of engineering. The kids’ joy when the screen lights up is worth it all. These kids’ focus and attention to detail in assembly pays off when the Bread Board Games spring to life.

Do-it-yourself punch cards and other amazing feats: DIT’s Paper Programming booth at Dublin Maker 2018

img_5842With the annual Dublin Maker fair on July 21st, DIT’s RoboSlam group of volunteer staff and students headed to Marrion Square for an action-packed Saturday. After four years of teaching visitors to Dublin Maker about build robots, we shifted focus to activities that could engage even more people at a time.

My clever colleagues in DIT’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering designed a booth on the theme of “Paper Programming” to teach the history and theory of using paper to program computerized gadgets that date back to the industrial loom for weaving fabric and the computer punch card.

img_5850The set of photo galleries below shows my weekend activities helping run this booth at Dublin Maker 2018. You’ll learn about and see photos of:

  • Getting to the fair
  • Setting up our booth
  • History of Paper Programming
  • Visiting other exhibits
  • Our activities
    • Fraktalismus
    • Scan2 Tweet
    • isitpop.art
    • Music Box
  • Time enough left for a relaxing Sunday!

Getting to the fair

My trip from London to the fair included a trip to London City Airport via the Docklands Light Rail on Friday. Exploring the city center of Dublin, I discovered a number of welcome changes. Namely, a second bike rental scheme has entered the city! This scheme requires locking the rental bike to a bike rack but doesn’t require using a docking stating like Dublin Bikes (of which I’m a member and enjoyed using twice this weekend). I also observed a slight increase in the use of the electric-car-charging stations. As I didn’t want to disturb my flat-mates, I dined out at Porto while reviewing calls for conference papers, and then took in a film about Oscar Wilde at the IFI. The next morning I woke early for my cycle ride to Marrion Square.

Setting up our booth

The team arrived an hour an a half before the official opening of the event, to get everything up and running. As every single activity we offered was brand new and designed for this event, we had some tweaking to do! The two main developers–Ted Burke and Frank Duignan–did an amazing job, and that enabled the rest of the crew to set up the activities. We learned a lot and had many successes at this event, and we will expand and continue to develop these activities for use in the future.

History of Paper Programming

Damon Berry and I served as the welcoming committee, of sorts–greeting people and providing introduction and background. Damon discussed the history of programming with paper, as described in the poster pictured below.

Visiting other exhibits

Before things got rolling, and on the way to pick up a lunch box, I got to visit other booths, check out the incredibly wide range of learning events, and make a few things myself.

Fraktalismus

For Fraktalismus, each participant drew one or two small sketches. Then a group of recent DIT graduates would capture the sketched image(s) and import them into a laptop.

The laptop was running a program developed by Dr. Ted Burke that applied a mathematical equation that would repeat the image in a fractal pattern. The participant could then use our computer mouse to adjust the “z” value in the equation–to flip through various iterations of the equation. The equation is included in an image below.

After selecting one fractal as the favorite pattern, the participant would then select a favored color combination. The DIT folks would print the image on glossy cardstock and provide the participant with it and an envelope to take home.

The results were artistic and consistently stunning! People of all ages got involved. I loved making my own greeting card using fractal geometry along with my hand-made sketch of a beloved fragment of London’s skyline.

Scan2 Tweet

in Scan2 Tweet, the participant used a barcode sheet with a hand scanner. Each barcode corresponded to one letter or keyboard character (space, delete, enter, for example). By scanning barcodes from this sheet, the participant could compose a short message and “Tweet” it from our group’s Twitter account. DIT’s Shane Ormonde ran this activity.

isitpop.art

Ted managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute, getting his design-it-yourself video game programme up and running that he calls “isitpop.art”. Participants could input their own drawing to use as an icon in the game, and control the background to be an image of their choice (such as their own photo, or a video clip from the internet).

Music Box

In the Music Box activity, designed by Frank Duignan, participants received a sheet of paper with a grid for plotting musical tones in sequence. They were given a quick briefing on how the technology worked—they would color one square per row with a black marker. When this colored square passed its corresponding color sensor, a note would play. Thus, participants with knowledge of music theory were able to predict or orchestrate the sequence of notes to play a tune.

The piece of paper was attached to a drum (in this case a large drink bottle) and spun on its axis. This allowed the grided paper to pass across the set of color sensors, one row after another. A tennis ball was used to hold the bottom of the bottle in the correct place (effectively weighing it down).

We tried to use a similar system to run four small motors to operate a small robotic arm and its claw, and I suspect we will see this up and running in subsequent later events. Watching the teamwork on this activity gave a sense of what it’s like to work as an engineer, working to troubleshoot and address problems that arise with the parts.

I really enjoyed this activity and enjoyed hearing the short tunes that participants created.

Time enough left for a relaxing Sunday!

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, I hailed a cab for Dublin Airport. Landing at Gatwick, I grabbed breakfast to go and headed to the train platform. When the next train to Brighton pulled into the station, Aongus popped out to welcome me aboard for the half hour trip to the southern coast of Britain.

We spent the day on Brighton Beach, with lunch in the town and a visit to Brighton Pier before enjoying a peaceful 1.75-hour trip back by train to our place in Mile End.

 

Learning London: Transport for Mobility

 

My research supervisor in London, Professor Nick Tyler, is a global expert in transportation systems, with expertise in accessibility. He travels around the world advising transportation planners–and his research also has gone a long way to improve how Transport for London serves people with mobility challenges and various forms of disability.

Transportation Design

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A view from the testing platform, with Professor Tyler and some MSc students.

Nick offered a Masters-level class at University College London in Term 2 and I got to attend the opening day which was held at the research facility he heads, located on the Northern Line up in Tufnell Park.

On the opening day of this course on design for transport engineers, Nick’s students and I experienced what it’s like to navigate common street conditions while blindfolded, hearing impaired, or using crutches and wheelchairs.

The photo gallery provides a glimpse of this opening day. And, YES, it did feel like Back to the Future with Dr. Emmett Brown, who you likely remember as “Doc.”

About PAMELA

PAMELA stands for “Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environment Laboratory.” The lab’s website explains that “PAMELA is a multisensory laboratory for the assessment of pedestrian movement.” In other words, it is a research facility with equipment for simulating real-world conditions at full scale so researchers can study how people with differing abilities deal with specific variables (sounds, ambient noise, varying light levels, tripping hazards, steps, etc.).

“Constructed between 2003 and 2006, the PAMELA laboratory is a novel and highly flexible facility,” UCL’s PAMELA webpage explains, “allowing full-scale pedestrian infrastructure to be built and tested to enable thorough assessment and evaluation. The structure includes a flexible floor surface that represents real ground conditions with interchangeable surface materials and is supported by a range of sensing equipment.” The webpage also describes specific research studies that have made a tremendous difference and yielded huge financial savings in London.

A picture of an underground carriage at PAMELA

Transport simulation research being done at PEARL. Image from http://www.engineering.ucl.ac.uk/news/pamela-develop-pearl/

Introducing PAMELA’s sister, PEARL

In 2017, Nick secured a £9m grant from EPSRC via its UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) program. This will fund the construction of a new and improved version of PAMELA, called PEARL (People-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory).

Connecting UCL and DIT

In May, during my two visits to Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), I learned that my colleagues at DIT’s transportation engineers, led by Dr. Lorraine D’Arcy, received validation to launch a new, interdisciplinary Master of Science (MSc) degree in Transport and Mobility. I look forward to helping Lorraine connect with Nick so she and DIT can learn from–and hopefully, contribute to–the wealth of experience and knowledge Nick has accrued.

 

Learning London: Science Museum

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The Mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid and partners.

London’s Science Museum is so interesting that we went two days in a row. We hadn’t had our fill after just one visit, so we woke up Sunday morning and said “Let’s go back!” Incidentally, entry is by donation, so you can give what you like.

In the photo gallery below, you’ll see the Science Museum’s spacious entry hall and some images on the display about space exploration. You’ll see images from other parts of the museum that cover technological developments over time (related to transportation, homes, and appliances).

There’s special exhibit on Mathematics that includes visualization of air flow around a small aircraft (a display designed by the late/great architect Zaha Hadid) and there are displays about bridge and tower design.

I’ve included a few images from the special exhibition on technology in India–feeding my fascination with step wells. We also visited the exhibit on “Superbugs” to better understand the evolution of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Bread Board Games

The best way to spend a rainy Saturday in November? Teaching kids about electronics!

On Saturday–as part of Ireland’s 2017 Science Week, our RoboSlam team delivered two workshops in Bunclody, county Wexford. Kids as young as seven participated, and each built a working video game developed by our team’s very own Frank Duignan.

Workshop 1 – For students with coding experience.  Build the controller, play a game, change elements of a game using coding (15 Students, 10.45a.m. – 1.00 p.m., 8 – 12 years)

Workshop 2 – For students with no coding experience.  Build the controller, play a game (15 Students, 2.15p.m. – 3.30p.m., for kids 7 – 10 years)

The kids were such fun, and all were completely engaged and excited to learn. Bunclody Library hosted the Workshops, Toaglas sponsored the event, and DIT retiree Charlie Prichard organized sponsorship. For more photos and info, visit our RoboSlam blog.

 

Collecting Data

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Wednesday’s RoboSumo class was going a-ok!

I’m gearing up for the new research fellowship by collecting data here in Ireland–data that I can analyze once I’m situated in London.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing women who are studying engineering in Dublin. Most of the women I’ve interviewed in this country have completed the design projects that you’ve seen in my prior blogs (RoboSumo, bridge design, and Energy Cube). Although I can’t show you the actual participants in my study for reasons of confidentiality, I’ve included a photo from this past Wednesday’s RoboSumo lab. Our big tournament is in two weeks, and excitement is mounting.  I’m asking students who took these courses three years ago about their experiences with engineering and with working in teams.

I truly believe that interviewing women from DIT over a period of years has helped me become a better teacher, particularly since I started teaching on these projects last autumn. In prior years, I was lending a hand occasionally in Energy Cube, RoboSumo, and bridge design, but most of my time was spent observing classroom and team dynamics.

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Trinity College’s main courtyard in all its mid-day splendor.

Today, I got to sit down and talk with a lovely young woman who started in DIT’s program four years ago, and who transferred to Trinity’s engineering program half-way through. To do this, I hiked across town to Trinity’s campus and the two of us chatted for 80 minutes, over coffee at Trinity’s Science Gallery. I hope the audio recording is clear enough, as I normally work in a much more controlled environment. There were far more distractions today than usual, yet the content of the interview was fascinating.

I interviewed all these women in the past as well, when they were first year engineering students, and now I’m catching back up with them after they completed several years of study. This is what’s referred to as a “longitudinal” study, and I am looking at changes and development over time. I have three more interviews lined up for next week, and I can not wait to hear about these students’ adventures in education and engineering.