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Workshop at Northern Illinois University melds art, electronics

Published: Monday, May 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Felix Sarver – fsarver@shawmedia.com)
DeKalb residents Lena and David Galica – along with their 4-year-old son, Jack – build a circuit-based device Saturday in the Bright Futures: Electric Art Lab in Faraday Hall at Northern Illinois University. Bright Futures, a community program organized by NIU's STEM Outreach, helps people understand how electronics and electricity work through fun activities.

DeKALB – Art met science and fun Saturday at the Electric Art Lab.

The lab was hosted for the second time in a row by the Bright Futures community program run by Northern Illinois University’s STEM Outreach. The program encourages children’s interest in electronics, said STEM Outreach associate Jeremy Benson.

The lab isn’t completely focused on the science side of electronics. Bart Woodstrup, who teaches electronic art at NIU and oversaw the lab activities, said there is not much difference between what artists and scientists do.

“I think it’s important for young people to see that relationship,” Woodstrup said. 

He said the art aspect of the Electric Art Lab is attractive to people. Last year, a couple of girls who were interested in drawing and art came to the lab, and Woodstrup said they came because it offered something creative. 

“This is about teaching them how to build a circuit and then make art with it,” Woodstrup said.

Woodstrup works in the Time Arts program in the NIU Art Department. The program teaches students how to make video games, video and animation.

Several parents came to the lab at Faraday Hall with their children, and worked with Woodstrup and STEM Outreach members on building devices that whizzed and popped.

The first device was a “throwie.” Woodstrup said building this device required attaching an LED bulb to a battery and a magnet. The bulb lights up, but people are also able to stick it to a metal surface and create designs with them.

“People sometimes use it for graffiti,” Woodstrup said.

The next device they built put a blinking LED on a 555 timer circuit. The circuit is commonly used in devices such as microwaves and clocks, Woodstrup said.

The LED was replaced with a speaker to make a synthesizer for the next device. The device creates a sound wave in the shape of a square, Woodstrup said.

Afterward, they used a solar panel instead of a battery. This made the synthesizer run on electricity generated from the sun.

Naperville resident Mike Rezak brought his son, Lucas, to the lab because of his son’s interest in science. He said he learned a lot, including the basic principles of resistance and voltage.  

“I thought it was informative and engaging,” Rezak said. 

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