How making whimsical machines can jumpstart STEM education

A offee stirring machine made by students at the Fab Academy 2015 at Fab Lab Reykjavik (Photo: Fab Lab Reykjavik)

A coffee stirring machine made by students at the Fab Academy 2015 at Fab Lab Reykjavik (Photo: Fab Lab Reykjavik)

Engineer Nadya Peek’s life’s work is to make it easier for students to make machines that make things. As a member of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, she develops fun and off-the-wall ways to create tools for manufacturing.

One of these ways is through the Fab Academy Cardboard Machine Construction Kit — an engineering kit for non-engineers that was the by-product of a challenge to make a cheap, easy and accessible DIY kit for building fabrication machines.

The parts neededc for making the kit (Photo: Nadya Peek)

The parts needed for making the kit (Photo: Nadya Peek)

Peek and her MIT colleague James Coleman developed the kit — which combines cardboard, electronics and some hardware to open up the world of machine design. The two took the kit on the road, teaching students at FabLabs around the world to build their own cardboard machines.

And build they did. Students created all sorts of crazy contraptions — from a pancake printer to a seed “doodler” to a calligraphy machine.

A team at FabLab Kyushu University created the “Kaiware Doodle” machine, a contraption that plants sprouted daikon radish seeds. (Photo: FabLab Kyushu University)

A team at FabLab Kyushu University created the “Kaiware Doodle” machine, a contraption that plants sprouted daikon radish seeds in complex patterns. (Photo: FabLab Kyushu University)

Below, a compilation of their creations:

“All [of these machines] seem kind of frivolous,” Peek says in a talk at TEDxAmsterdam, “but when you can do things that are frivolous … that also means that it is easy and so, if it’s easy now to build machines that makes almost anything … what are the possibilities that you can imagine?”

To learn more, watch Peek’s entire talk below:

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