Author:
SAMANTHA WITTCHEN
Date:
MARCH 10, 2015

Eric Manganaro On Friday afternoons, DM+D hosts Kids’ Club, The Hacktory’s weekly after-school program that lets 3rd to 5th graders explore simple machines, build robots, fabricate musical instruments and otherwise do cool stuff.  Fearlessly leading that program, along with Allison Frick, is Eric Manganaro.

Eric came to DM+D by way of NextFab, which had previously occupied the DM+D space before moving to its current space on Washington Avenue.  Eric was interning with an inventor, and they worked out of a small workshop in the inventor’s home and ran a group together making Tesla coils.  Having toured NextFab with the inventor, Eric took a membership after his internship ended so that he would still have access to the kind of tools had been using in the home workshop.

So when NextFab moved and DM+D took over the space, Eric was naturally interested in what was happening here.  The Hacktory was looking for a co-teacher for Kids’ Club, and Eric jumped at the chance.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s having more fun–the kids or Eric.

When he’s not dreaming up awesome projects for Kids’ Club, you might also find him playing guitar, bass guitar, flute or composing computer music.  His indie pop R&B crossover band (yes, really!) has an EP due out in the Spring.  We caught up with Eric to talk LED hula hoops, solar panels and language.


5 QUESTIONS FOR ERIC MANGANARO

1. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?

I am starting a toy company, iSpinToys. We’re developing a set of poi—it’s basically an illuminated weight on the end of a string.  They’re used for swinging in a variety of rhythmic patterns. That’s where I get to use a lot of my skills. It combines 3-D modeling with casting and circuit design.

In addition to running the toy company, I fix a lot of LED hoops.  A new LED hoop can run hundreds of dollars, so I fix them for people instead. At DM+D, I’m teaching a class on building your own LED hoop. It’s basically a soldering class that’s disguised as a hoop-making class.

I’m also currently working on a Jeffersonian polygraph for the American Philosophical Society.  It’s a device that Thomas Jefferson used for duplicating manuscripts.  His pen would be attached to another pen by a series of mechanical linkages, and as he would write, it would create a duplicate copy.  The APS is going to use the one I’m building in an upcoming exhibit.

2. HOW DOES DM+D INSPIRE YOU?

The people there inspire me, and the degree of freedom I have is inspiring.

There are a lot of bright people that come into the space to work on things and learn, and that’s really inspiring.  Because of the position that I’m in, I have freedom to control the curriculum of Kids’ Club without an institution to direct me–it’s really just the attention spans of the kids that guide me.

If you’re prone to being inspired by that kind of environment, it’s a great place to be. The fact that DM+D is able to keep itself a place that’s open to all kinds of people and presents a learning environment that isn’t intimidating to them is also inspiring to me.

3. WHAT’S ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS YOU REMEMBER MAKING ON YOUR OWN?

Where I grew up in NJ was close to Edmund Scientific. They just do optics now, but they used to sell educational scientific experiments. They’d also sell loose motors and broken solar panel parts. One of the first things I remember doing was putting together solar panels from broken solar panel parts. I used to use them to power my little projects that incorporated motors and switches.

4. WHICH MAKERS HAVE HAD THE MOST INFLUENCE ON YOU?

Neil Gershenfeld, who teaches a class called “How to Make Almost Anything” at MIT, runs a center there called the Center for Bits and Atoms, and I was intrigued by the beginning of the concept of being able to unleash your creativity because you’re surrounded by tools in the right configurations with the right people. He also started the fabrication lab (or Fab Lab) movement as an alternative form of industrial education.

Richard Feynman is someone else I really like.  He’d do this mental exercise where you’d have to explain an object or an idea to him, but you’d have to eliminate context-specific jargon. When you do that, it forces you to explain something in common language that might take a little longer but ultimately makes it clearer. You start losing boundaries between those who understand the jargon and those who don’t.

5. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS?

The part that I value is failure. I value it in a way that makes me really anxious and that has a really long build up to a dopamine release when I finally succeed.  It’s using the failure to realize where I’m coming from and to be honest about the project. I like to be able to allow the process to take over. I have an idea of what a project means going into it, but as I remind myself of the physical limitations of the project, it lends itself to the next step. I guess my favorite part of the process is allowing the project to tell me what to do next.

Eric at Kids Club

Eric shows a Kids’ Club attendee how to cut a pomegranate.

Eric - cigar box guitar

Eric helps kids build a cigar box guitar.