Monday, January 16, 2012

Resources: where we get materials project inspiration

Recently at a Community Science Workshop network training/skill swap day I was asked where we find our ideas and our project materials.  Thinking about this I realized it was quite a long list and that there was no way I was going to remember all the good ones in that conversation. So in this post I will try to provide a more complete list of what resources we use on a regular basis.


American Science and Surplus
•A good source for cheap optics, lab ware, electromechanical parts, and a wide variety of hardware and equipment. While their inventory changes over time it is relatively stable.

Surplus Shed
• Very cheap high quality optics, a great place to go if you wanted to get the components for a telescope for under $40.  The down side of Surplus Shed is that its almost completely surplus, so if you find a cool lens today it might not be in stock in the future so plan accordingly.

Electronic Goldmine
• This site has a fairly complete selection of electronic components at reasonable prices. Their LED assortments are a particularly good deal. They also have some unique optical components though they're not as cheap as some other sites. Goldmine seems to stock the same items consistently from my experience.

All Electronics
• Another electronics surplus site with somewhat of a wider selection of parts and a fairly stable inventory. They have a lot of useful electronic accessories such as cables and housing for projects, as well as a good selection of things like motors and LEDs.

• Uline sells packaging supplies for shipping, we order through them when we need a large number of identical cardboard tubes, while not the cheapest they do deliver very fast and can provide long tubes at sub dollar prices as long as you get 50 or more. When you consider you can usually get 5 or 6 projects from one long tube the price is actually quite affordable.

Bay Area Specific:

East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse  4695 Telegraph Ave. , Oakland (at Telegraph and 47th, near where Shattuck hits Telegraph)
• This store stocks many discarded but still useful consumer materials. Things like cookie tins, cardboard tubes, bottles, yarn and fabric can be found there.  They also seem to have a lot of old media, slides records, tapes and occasionally microfiche.    

Scrap  801 Toland, San Francisco  (entrance on Newcomb between Toland and Selby streets)
• This place has a very similar variety of items as the East Bay Depot, with more craft materials and less media.

Urban Ore  900 Murray Street, Berkeley (near Ashby and 7th)
• A huge somewhat addictive junk store, they consistently stock building materials like PVC pipe, and 2X4'' and will sell you a 10' length for about a dollar. They also stock a wide but ever changing variety of hardware, tools, electronics and furniture.

Project Inspiration:

Science education specific:

• RAFT has a large searchable archive of activities ("Idea Sheets") which are often a good starting point for planning or expanding an activity.

• While Instructables can have somewhat of an annoying format, it does archive hundreds of thousands of projects. Browsing randomly or searching for a specific idea is often fruitful.

Make Projects
• Although Make Magazine has many projects that would financially and technologically be inaccessible to the Discovery Center and organizations like us, there are also many good simple ideas on the Make site which are worth taking a look at.

Anchor Optics: vintage optical projects
• A series of simple optical projects in pdf format, originally published in the 60's and 70's still have a lot of relevant information.

Toys from Trash
• This site contains many simple and incredibly inexpensive projects that address various aspects of physics.

Exploratorium Science Snacks
• The Exploratorium Science Snack site has many simple activities which clearly and concisely illustrate basic scientific principles using every day materials.  Its valuable both a a conceptual reference library and as useful inspiration and add ons for science activities.  There is book version of these activities, The Exploratorium Science Snack Book (Paul Doherty), I believe there are currently 2 additions.  

• An offshoot of the Exploratorium's Learning Studio, PIE has many activities/experiments that merge art and science in an intuitive way to further understanding of both. Looking at the "PIE work" and "Idea Library" sections is definitely worthwhile.

Having a good physics text book (which you can understand) is also a very useful resource as you can use it to reference the science behind a project.

Design Specific:
Some people will probably wonder why I added the following references to the list as they appear divergent, but looking at professional design work especially that which focuses on materiality and structure can be informative. The trick is filtering it out from all the cool but less applicable design out there.

•A major American industrial design magazine cover all aspects of industrial design.  Alot of this is not very applicable but then there are things like this interspersed which could be the basis for an interesting activity on structure using easy to find parts (think cardboard and index cards).

NOTCOT has collected a huge number of interesting design projects from various sources. Again the trick is separating that which is generally interesting from that which is relevant to science education.
I searched "cardboard" or "light" and got some applicable results.


Inna Alesina, Ellen Lupton, Exploring Materials: Creative Design For Everyday Objects. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.

This book shows many examples of objects created by manipulating materials and then goes on to explain simple techniques to replicate the manipulation processes.  Making objects out of paper, plastic metal, wood and fabric are covered.  I think the plastic forming techniques are particularly interesting and informative.

I hope this is informative,
Antonio Papania-Davis

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