Flasher Fun

With the Keck Observatory open house approaching I am helping get one of the most popular activities ready. At the last two open houses we have made flasher pins, we will do so again this year.

Flasher Pin
A simple electronics project… The Flasher Pin
Flashers? These are a simple circuit built on a PCB that flashes a pair of LED’s. Nothing serious, just a bit of electronics fun. The activity allows folks to learn a little electronics and soldering.

The PCB is configured as a pin or badge, with a brooch pin soldered to the back that also serves as a switch to turn on the LED’s.

The original design came from John Maute at SAO. The circuit is based around the venerable LM555 timer IC configured as an astable multivibrator. The LM555 timing circuit is simple enough to solder together in a few minutes, complex enough to look cool and provide a real introduction to an electronic circuit.

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2013 Big Island MATE ROV Competition

For the sixth year running I made the drive to Hilo to help in judging the Big Island Regional 2013 MATE Underwater ROV competition. Too much fun to miss!

As usual Keck provided much of the official staff. This is the fault of Keck software engineer Al Honey, the head official, who drafts the rest of us into being there! An engineer from Liquid Robotics and a couple folks from the observatories in Hilo rounded out the judging staff. Add teams from schools all over the island and mix with water to create an event.

A ROV built from PVC pipe and bilge pumps maneuvers the course at the 2013 MATE ROV regional competition in Hilo
The missions continue to increase in complexity. This year the task was a simulated undersea research platform. Various instruments were in need of upgrade or servicing. Opening a hatch on the “undersea instrument platform”, disconnecting power, removing an instrument, installing a new instrument, removing bio-fouling, a long list of tasks, each worth a few points in the final tally. Never-mind the instruments were made of PVC and the bio-fouling was actually pipe cleaners, it still was not easy!

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STEMpede at Parker

Take two old scanners, two VCR’s, a stereo amplifier and tape deck. Place on a table with an ample supply of screwdrivers, wire cutters and other tools. Mix in a dozen middle school kids and observe the results!

As you might expect a little chaos appears. Chaos is good… Embrace the chaos! Use the result to have a little fun while learning.

Electronic Sacrifices
A few electronic sacrifices await the arrival of the students.
The event is STEMpede, a day filled with science, technology, engineering and math at the Parker School here in Waimea. With Keck Observatory essentially right next door, it makes sense that our engineers and astronomers can put on quite a day for the kids.We were joined by one of the engineers from Liquid Robotics and a couple local physicians and paramedics for a variety of activities and talks.

I was not going to simply talk, I have always believed learning is best done by hand. Some of the gear was from my own garage, some off the electronics disposal pallet at work. A lineup of old electronics greeted the kids, then I opened the tool-bag!

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