Tinkerers and Makers

Students try their hand at high-tech fabrication in the UC Davis Department of Physics. Photo credit T.J. Ushing.
Students try their hand at high-tech fabrication in the UC Davis Department of Physics. Photo credit T.J. Ushing.

Becky Oskin, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science, wrote this story for the fall 2019 issue of the College of Letters and Science Magazine

From mechanical flowers to moon clocks, there’s no telling what projects may emerge from students in the class “Join the Maker Revolution.” 

The maker movement began in the early 2000s in the Bay Area and emphasizes do-it-yourself design and building across the arts, engineering, and sciences. “The maker movement is something I’ve been hearing about, and I figured this was a great way to get involved,” said Robert Fox (B.A., English, ’19). 

Taught by Professor Shirley Chiang — an experimental physicist who often engineers her own instrumentation — the first-year seminar draws undergraduates who have a desire to design, create, and discover. Sometimes their projects solve a practical problem. Other times, curiosity and imagination are the motivators. Whatever the idea, the class fosters problem-solving, communication, and collaboration among its students. 

During class, Chiang doles out advice as students learn to work with soldering irons, 3D printers, and open-source electronic hardware like the Arduino microcontroller. 

“It’s very hands-on. It’s almost like an art class,” said Quynh Tran, a third-year neurobiology, physiology, and behavior major. “It brings me back to playing with Legos. This is next-level Legos.”