Archive for the ‘Arduino’ Category

Just Imagine…Imaginary Numbers in the Real World


'Just Imagine' fridge magnet

The ‘Just Imagine…’ fridge magnet, complete with sinusoid, key constants, and a very confused looking sheep. The connections were revealed in the course of the day’s workshop. © University of Chester, 2016

Back in the depths of last winter, I started investigating ways that I might bring together some of my colleagues in Performing Arts – the department where I did my Ph.D. – and the Faculty of Science and Engineering, where I teach.  It took a while, but the idea is now starting to bear fruit.  We began with a workshop for A-level maths and science students on Imaginary Numbers, which took place at Thornton Science Park a couple of weeks ago.

We welcomed about 20 students and their teachers from local schools for a full day of varied activities on the theme of Imaginary Numbers.  This included the sort of thing you might expect at Thornton Science Park , including a session in the Electrical and Electronic Engineering lab looking at the relationship between sinusoidal waves, complex numbers, and sound.  (The TWSU DIY Synth proved to be particularly popular there!)  The thing which really made the day different, and I believe also really helped to make it both enjoyable and engaging, was the contribution in the morning from Ed Morris and Phil Goss, two University of Chester graduates who now run a theatre company called 2Engage.  They do a lot of educational theatre work, and I believed they could help us to present the challenging topic of complex numbers in a less threatening way, and also give students a perspective they might not get elsewhere.

I think it’s fair to say the plan worked.  Between us we designed a couple of comic sketches, with associated activities, designed to put complex numbers into historical perspective, and also give a background to the two common notations for complex numbers (i.e., polar and cartesian).  Students found themselves wearing sheep masks for the former, and directing one another around masking-tape grids on the floor for the latter.  They also laughed quite a lot – fortunately in more or less the places where we’d hoped they would – and took home a custom-made fridge magnet each, to remind them of both the day and the principles we’d worked on understanding together.  Feedback for the day was excellent from all concerned, and I’m really looking forward to doing more sessions along similar lines in the future.  In the meantime, I heartily recommend 2Engage to anyone out there looking for educational theatre, and certainly not just on scientific topics.  They did an excellent job.

Arduino Days II – The Return of the Solder


I first dabbled in Arduino-based electronics last Spring, and had a lot of fun doing my first soldering in years putting together an Arduino Gamer kit.  My regular work (and Ph.D.) then took over for a few months, but then a few things conspired to get me back on the physical computing path.  A programming course I took last summer used traffic lights as the basis of all its examples, and I realised the potential of this apparently simple idea to be extended into very complex but still educationally useful examples.  Later in the year, I found out that there were a number of batches of Arduinos, Raspberry Pis and similar kits around the faculty, most of which weren’t being used at the time.  I also had some conversations with researchers from other departments about using small microprocessors such as the Arduino for tasks such as air quality monitoring.  (There is a ready-made kit for this purpose called the Air Quality Egg.  I want one!)  So, before Christmas, I got a group of like-minded people from around the faculty together to start to think of ways to make use of the kits we already had, but weren’t making much use of.  One of the outcomes was a plan to produce a set of Arduino-powered traffic lights for the CompSci Conference – an internal conference held each year in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chester, where I work.

The conference took place today, and my DIY traffic lights got to strut their stuff in among many far more erudite presentations on games design and advanced subtitling techniques; a slightly intimidating experience in some ways, but useful nonetheless; I’ve learned (or re-learned) a tremendous amount about electronics and microprocessors, and also about programming for the Arduino, and the advantages and limitations it has as a hardware platform.  (My colleague Andrew Muncey created three programs of increasing complexity for the demonstration.)  I’ve also made a large number of contacts around the faculty and the university – from Electrical & Electronic Engineering to teacher education – and we have plans afoot to use Arduinos and similar kits in STEM outreach sessions for schools and college students both at Thornton Science Park and elsewhere.  Finally, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the traffic control room at Cheshire West and Chester council, to learn how traffic control systems function in the wild.  This was a fascinating experience in itself, and I’m sure will form the basis for good collaborations in the future.


Arduino Days

My first degree was a Joint Honours B.Sc. in Music & Physics.  The music part has remained a serious hobby, and provided the raw material for my Ph.D study, but the physics has always been the basis of how I earn my living.  I’m therefore enthusiastic about the trend for ‘physical computing’, which involves messing about with resistors and soldering irons as well as coding.  It’s great to get back, literally, to the nuts and bolts of the hardware.

I’ve therefore been spending a chunk of this weekend assembling an Arduino DIY Gamer kit; a very enjoyable process, especially if like me you enjoy both physics and crafts.  You do have to read the instructions carefully though!  I thought I had, but discovered too late that I’d fixed the IR transmitter in at the wrong angle, and it proved impossible to remove without breaking something.  (This won’t stop the kit as a whole from working, but might make multi-player gaming via IR a bit flaky.)  I also managed to fix the battery terminals in the wrong way around!  Fortunately they were easier to get out again than the IR TX, and fitted back in after a bit of filing and resoldering.  The kit is now working, and after a couple of tries I’ve also got the Arduino IDE downloaded onto my Mac, and talking to the Gamer.  Next stop, Space Invaders!