Inquiry-Based Science with Mr. B

MARCH 3, 2015

UCSC-KWPP Polymer Play Program - Nicholas Bungard

Bioplastics final presentation with students from KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School and Director of Enrichment, Nicholas Bungard

Every Wednesday afternoon, a group of intrepid 8th graders from KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School (KWPP) and their teacher, Nicholas Bungard (or Mr. B, as he’s known to the students), board a trolley from their Baltimore Avenue school and head to DM+D for two and a half hours of inquiry-based scientific exploration.

The program, which is comprised of two nine-week sessions held in the Fall and Spring semesters, is in its second year. Last year, Danielle Stollak, Program Manager for STEAM Initiatives at the University City Science Center, contacted Bungard, who is the Director of Enrichment at KWPP, and suggested that DM+D would be a good fit with KWPP’s core values. Bungard says he was excited about having the ability to provide opportunities for scientific inquiry and exploration–something that has become less common in our modern test-driven middle school curricula.

“DM+D really stresses inquiry-based scientific exploration,” says Bungard. “Students have the opportunity to make mistakes and hypothesize and not have it work out. Sometimes it’s hard for them.”

Bungard says that often in sciences labs, there’s a predictable outcome. Teachers will pick a lab that they know students are going to have success with, so students don’t have an opportunity to fail, which is critical to the learning process.

“Our students have some natural fear of making mistakes,” notes Bungard, “and pulling that veil off and teaching them that it’s okay to make mistakes is slowly eroding away their fear.”

Last Fall, students learned about creating and using bioplastics. They experimented with different kinds of bioplastic materials and ultimately participated in a collaborative project where they created a new product or reinvented an existing one using bioplastics. During the final presentation, to which family and friends were invited, visitors were asked to act like investors, so the students learned a bit about entrepreneurship and selling their products, too.

USCS-KWPP Bioplastics presentation group

Students from KWPP present their bioplastics product

This Spring’s session focuses on batteries and electric circuits. Students learn about voltage, amps and electron movement. They’ve learned how to make batteries using everyday household items, like hooking limes together to power an LED, and this semester’s program will culminate in students making a battery-powered machine. If they can incorporate what they learned about bioplastics last Fall, even better. Similar to the Fall session, there will be a presentation during the last week of the program.

Bungard says that one of the main benefits of being at DM+D is that it allows students to experience working in a real laboratory. “DM+D is reflective of the kind of spaces that the students will find themselves in during or after college,” he says, “and it shows them that a lab isn’t always glass beakers and lab coats. It’s a vibrant place where people are communicating and collaborating, and sometimes it’s messy.”

Students apply for fifteen spots in the program. Currently, there are more girls than boys, but Bungard says that’s just luck of the draw.

Bungard has been working in enrichment at KWPP since it opened in 2009. When it comes to the program at DM+D, he says that he plays more the role of an active participant than a teacher with all the answers. He feels fortunate that he can facilitate this kind of self-directed, inquiry-based learning for students because it adds another layer of understanding that will only help them when they leave KWPP.

“I feel confident that when they get to high school, they’ll be ahead of the other students.”

Mr. B - Urban Blazers

Mr. B with student as part of Urban Blazers, another enrichment program at KWPP

School For Poetic Computation

FEBRUARY 24, 2015

School for Poetic Computation - Fall 2014

Photo courtesy of SFPC

Last Spring, when The Hacktory was planning for its Unknown Territory residency program, the New York City-based School for Poetic Computation (SFPC) announced that it would be offering a two-week intensive class that focuses on the nexus of art and technology.  This wasn’t the first time that The Hacktory’s Executive Director, Georgia Guthrie, had heard of SFPC.  She had been following the work of a number of the school’s founders, many of whom were doing interesting hardware projects in the world of design and computing, for several years.  When the school launched two years ago, Guthrie had been interested in attending its inaugural class, but it was a ten-week session, and it was expensive.

So when SFPC announced it was offering a shorter two-week session last Spring, it dovetailed nicely with The Hacktory’s hiring of Lee Tusman as Creative Director.  Tusman expressed interest in attending the class, and with help from a grant, The Hacktory was able to send him to attend.  Guthrie says it was a really good experience for Tusman, and when another ten-week session was announced for this Spring, Tusman encouraged Guthrie to apply.

Guthrie doesn’t often have the luxury to take time off from her job running The Hacktory, but the timing of this class, which begins March 16th and runs through May 22nd, turned out to be relatively convenient, so she decided to apply.  She was accepted.

The school’s self-described mission is to explore “the creative and expressive nature of computational approaches to art and design. The school approaches writing code like creative writing — focusing on the mechanics of programming, the demystification of tools, and hacking the conventions of art-making with computation.”

SFPC stresses that they are neither a technical bootcamp nor a vocational program, and what Guthrie hopes to get out of it is a deeper understanding of creative programming (and the tools used to facilitate it) that she can bring back to The Hacktory and share with others.  ”I’m excited to have a strong foundation myself that I can use to come up with more projects to bring back to Philly and expand the work we do,” she says.

In addition to having time to devote solely to learning the programs and programming languages that form the backbone of creative programming, Guthrie is also looking forward to making more contacts in New York.  She thinks it can only benefit The Hacktory and DM+D for more people in New York to know about the good work that’s happening in Philly.  ”It’ll strengthen our residency,” says Guthrie.  ”There’s been a lot in the news about Philly lately, and it seems like a good time for people to want to come and check Philly out.”

The teaching roster includes some big names in the creative programming space.  Guthrie says that Zach Lieberman, one of SFCP’s founders and a teacher at the class she’ll be attending, was one of the first people she knew doing work in this area.  Lieberman built an eye tracking mechanism for a graffiti artist who had been diagnosed with ALS, which left him almost completely paralyzed, and this mechanism allowed him to continue working by using just his eyes to control the creation of his work.  Guthrie is excited to have the opportunity to work with teachers like Lieberman.

Ultimately, though, she hopes that the experience at SFCP will be a way to jumpstart further creative programming work at The Hacktory.

“The more I’ve done work at The Hacktory, the more I’ve discovered that what it takes to get people to make stuff is to get them excited about it.  And I’m looking forward to finding some of that excitement for myself.”

Meet KC Shoot

FEBRUARY 17, 2015

KC Shoot on bike

Last week we told you about the recently launched Building Hero Project Etsy shop, and KC Shoot was a big part of getting the shop off the ground.  Lately she’s been working with the Building Heroes, leading fabrication for the Etsy shop on Mondays and Fridays and managing order fulfillment.

But KC first came to DM+D through The Hacktory and an opportunity they had to teach people how to make bike lights with Neighborhood Bike Works.  From there, her involvement with other organizations affiliated with DM+D grew organically.  Having had Public Workshop’s Director, Alex Gilliam, as a professor at the University of the Arts (where she studied industrial design), she wasn’t exactly a stranger to the kind of work that happens at DM+D.

And while she’s been spending most of her time on the Building Hero Project lately, that’s not all she does at DM+D.  She’s also frequently the person behind DM+D’s tweets and Instagram posts.  In between making desk organizers, we asked KC a few questions about what’s next on the design boards.



I’m focusing on doing more classes through DM+D. We’ll be doing a wearables class soon. I’m also focused on creating more products for the Building Hero Project Etsy store. We’ve been busy getting people comfortable with product fabrication, but once that’s under control, I’m excited about working on new products.

I also do a lot with fashion at the moment. I’m working on a jumpsuit line. I find fashion very classist because it’s about having status symbols like designer brands and not about how the clothes are made or their quality. So the stuff I do is more anti-fashion. I really want to make something that’s locally produced. The dye, the fabrics—all of it—would have to be locally sourced.

As part of my desire to help people understand the whole process of how our clothing gets made, I’m working on a kit that incorporates all the different aspects—from dying the fabric to sewing the clothes—for people to experience the process themselves.


Being at DM+D has been inspiring me to be a more inclusive designer and to work better with people. I’ve gotten better at explaining my ideas in a more objective and open way instead of just being a talking head.

Another great thing about DM+D is that the people really care. They are always open to listening to me, and I feel heard. I think they legitimately care about how people want to use the space.

I also love that nobody here is trying to hold onto their designs. If you want to learn something, you can pretty much walk up to someone who you think knows something about it, and they’ll show you. It’s a very inclusive space.


I used to love making my parents elaborate (or at least elaborate for a child) pop-up cards. I made lots of presents for my parents. It’s great because they have to like what you make for them since they’re your parents.


I really really like Neri Oxman. As a designer, you often want to take scientific things and add them to your art, but it’s difficult to understand how the technology or the science—like biomimicry, for example—works. She’s one of the few designers out there that can combine the two really well. And she’s intensely photogenic.

Additionally, my peers from school are doing super cool stuff lately, and that’s influencing me. I have a friend who designed pants for people in wheelchairs, and I’d like to do disability design. One of my professors, Mike McAllister, has worked on disability design, and he’s been an influence. I’ve always been very influenced by the people around me.


Sometimes I’ll think of an idea that’ll be too big, and I get overwhelmed with it. When I get to the point where I can actually get excited about it, that’s the best. I really like thinking of the implications of a design idea–that is, the emotional nature and how it affects people. Sometimes I like the thinking better because it’s easier than the making.

Kraken ring - Building Hero Etsy shop

One of KC’s contributions to the Building Hero Etsy shop, a laser cut kraken ring.

Block Party In a Box

KC helps with a little bike maintenance during a block party.

Building Heroes Launch Etsy Shop

FEBRUARY 10, 2015

Building Hero ProfilesOn Monday and Friday afternoons at DM+D, you’ll find a small but dedicated group of young adults, ages 16 and up, working tirelessly on designing and making products.  They are the Building Heroes, and they’re part of Public Workshop’s Building Hero Project, a young adult community design leadership program.

Building Heroes come in all shapes and sizes—high-schoolers, college design students, 20-something skateboarders, professional designers and carpenters.   What they all have in common is that they’ve participated in at least one of Public Workshop’s community improvement projects, like the PEC Community Message Board we wrote about in November, and they want to continue to hone their design, fabrication and leadership skills beyond that single project.  So they come to DM+D twice a week to design, build, and learn from one another.

“It serves as that place that people can come together and become great builders and leaders at the same time,” says Public Workshop Director Alex Gilliam. “There are really not opportunities to do these sorts of things for high schoolers outside of a trade program. For college students, there really aren’t opportunities to design ‘with’ and not ‘for.’”

Wynn Geary, a senior at Science Leadership Academy (and Building Hero) concurs, “As a high school student, it’s really great to have this network of the Building Heroes to help you learn because I don’t have a design class at school.  This is place I can go to and get help and learn how to design.”

Late last Fall, the team launched a Building Hero Project shop on Etsy with ten initial products.  From the very beginning, the elegantly simple wooden iPod speaker and the modular desk organizer were big hits.  Within two weeks, sales reached almost $2,000, making it obvious that the shop could be a great way to help the Building Hero Project fund itself and to provide income to the young adults building the products.

iPod Speakers - Building Heroes

The cleverly-designed iPod speaker is a top-seller on Etsy.

Building Hero Desk Organizer

The desk organizer is also a popular item in the Etsy shop.


It also teaches them the value of producing quality products that meet a need, as the marketplace ultimately decides what is and isn’t desirable through what buyers purchase. Every product in the store responds to a need identified by a Building Hero in his or her personal life or community.  Gilliam says that what distinguishes the Etsy shop from other grant-funded programs similar to the Building Hero Project is that the bar for quality of the products is set much higher.   “It has to succeed because it’s good,” says Gilliam, “not because someone is supporting your mission.”

Building Heroes also have to grapple with logistical issues, such as packaging, fulfilling orders, responding to customers, and tracking their time spent on all aspects of the store.  Through the process, they’re learning about the nuts and bolts of running a business from beginning to end in a very hands-on way.

“The Etsy project is something that we’re designing and making and funding ourselves,” says Building Hero KC Shoot. “It’s a very egalitarian environment, and I really like that.”

Ultimately, the Etsy store is a way for the Building Hero Project to grow without having to rely completely on grant funding to sustain it.  They’ve already added new products to the original ten, and every Monday and Friday presents another opportunity to add to the store’s growing line-up of thoughtfully designed and quality-crafted products that are #madeatDMD.

Interested in having a Building Hero product for your own?  Check out the Building Hero Project Etsy shop online.

Building Hero Multi-tool

The Building Hero Multi-Tool includes a pencil holster, pencil sharpener, ruler and speed square.

Family Fun With Bristle Bots

FEBRUARY 2, 2015


Grab a toothbrush and prepare for battle!  Wait.  What?

On Saturday, February 21st, DM+D is launching a monthly series of family-friendly events. The first one, led by The Hacktory’s Kids’ Club facilitators Allison Frick and Eric Manganaro, will feature toothbrush-propelled robots, created by kids and their parents, racing each other and battling it out at DM+D.

The toothbrush robots, or “bristle bots,” made their first appearance several months ago at Kids’ Club, and they were a huge hit.  As Frick explains, “This is one of those projects that kids like and will work on consistently the whole time [at Kids' Club].”  Since the basic bots don’t take very long to make functional, the kids have plenty of time to embellish, explore and play with them—essentially, to make them their own.

Building on the success of the Kids’ Club experience, Frick and Manganaro led a similar program as part of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programming at the Glenside Free Library, where Frick works as a youth services librarian.  They’ve since led several other popular events at the library that will form the basis for more events in DM+D’s family-friendly series, but the bristle bots were exceptionally successful, drawing over fifty people.

“It’s really nice because we’ve already run these programs a few times, and we really know what works and what doesn’t work,” says Frick.  ”These Saturday programs are really the best of Kids’ Club and the best of outreach.”

Frick is excited about the events because they give parents and kids a chance to learn and create something together.  The bristle bots event is geared towards elementary school-aged children and their parents, but younger children can participate if their parents are there help them throughout the process.

And although building robots may sound like serious work, Frick says not to worry.  ”There will be googly eyes.”


Click here to register for the upcoming Build. Battle. Bots. event.

Forensic Facial Reconstruction

JANUARY 27, 2015

3-D printed skull

52 hrs of printing later, Sophia emerges for the first time in almost 4000 years.

Out of the blue, Suzanne Matlock received a phone call last summer from her professor of scientific illustration at Arcadia.  He had been contacted by an archaeology professor, Davide Tanasi, from one of Arcadia’s programs in Italy.  Tanasi had unearthed nine individuals at an archaeological dig in Italy, and he was interested in finding out what these people looked like.

Matlock had completed a B.A. in scientific illustration at Arcadia in 2006, but her thesis was on forensic facial reconstruction.  While writing her thesis, she traveled to the University of Oklahoma in Norman to learn the process of forensic facial reconstruction through a two-week program led by Betty Pat Gatliff, an octogenarian forensic artist who originally pioneered the Gatliff/Snow American Tissue Depth Marker Method with Dr. Clyde Snow to identify plane crash victims in the 1960s.

Facial reconstruction projects like this don’t come along very often, so Matlock says that when she’s contacted about about something like this, she finds the time to take it on outside of her work in the pharmaceutical industry.

Because the skulls were too fragile, Tanasi couldn’t send the original artifacts to Matlock.  She assumed that, instead, he would send 3-D reproductions of the skulls, but what he ended up sending were simply files containing 3-D scans of the skulls.  Matlock was at an impasse—she had no way to open the files or turn them into a physical object.

Luckily, through a mutual friend, Matlock met Mike Darfler, DM+D’s Program Manager.  He was able to open the files and produce a skull for Matlock to work from using DM+D’s Ultimaker2 3-D printer.

Skull during 3-D printing

First attempt at recreating a male skull. Axial distortion prevented this skull from being reconstructed.

Matlock thought the printing process would take a couple hours, so she had intended to stay at DM+D and observe the entire process.  But when Darfler reviewed the files, he discovered that printing would take a whopping 52 hours.  So Matlock came to DM+D to watch the printing begin, but ultimately Darfler shepherded the process through completion, adding plastic filament midway through the operation so that it wouldn’t stop printing.  (The resulting skull is partially black and partially orange due to the plastic being two different colors.)

Matlock originally received files for two skulls, but only one of them, nicknamed Sofia, ended up being useful for reconstruction.  After being buried for thousands of years, the other skull was crushed to the point where there wasn’t enough information to begin to reconstruct it.  Matlock says it wasn’t even something about which she could guess.

Sofia appeared a little distorted, but Matlock explains that could have been the distortion she had in life.  Matlock assumed a small amount of crushing and has made the reconstruction slightly more symmetrical than the skull indicated.  Neither skull had a jaw, but Sofia had enough landmarks that Matlock could use the canons of proportion developed by physical anthropologists to reconstruct it.

Mandible reconstruction on skull

Recreation of the missing mandible with depth markers, eyes and flesh.

Matlock recreated a mandible, and then she reconstructed the tissue.  The tissue is reconstructed using modeling clay, and the depth and contours of the clay are determined by connecting markers made from erasers of varying lengths that Matlock attaches to the skull.  The size and location of the markers are dictated by specific guidelines based on generally accepted ultrasound tissue depth measurements for a Caucasian female with the age and body mass index identified for the specimen.

Matlock is now at the phase of the project where she’s trying to make it look more lifelike.  The work is really a mixture of art and science.  In fact, Matlock says, when she attended the two-week long program in Oklahoma, there was a technical phase and an artistic phase.  She estimates that she is about 90% finished with the project.

When the project is completed, the work will be shown at a museum in Italy.  The finished reconstruction will be presented alongside the original skull and a second the 3-D printed skull, which will also be created at DM+D in white plastic.

Matlock is astounded by the level of collaboration that has taken place on this project, enabled by DM+D.  She notes that part of the reason she’s had the opportunity to work on this project is that it’s been more cost effective for the archaeologist to send the files from Italy, have the reconstruction happen here with the help of DM+D and send the finished product back.

“Mike [Darfler] saved the day,” says Matlock, “Without Mike, this whole thing wouldn’t have happened.”

Meet Maximilllian Lawrence

JANUARY 20, 2015

Maximillian Lawrence

Wander into DM+D on any given day, and you’re likely to bump into Maximillian Lawrence, who may be waxing philosophical about karaoke, robots, or people who look like Alice Cooper, all while programming something on his laptop or working on his latest Frankenstein musical instrument.

Max was one of the The Hacktory’s artists-in-residence for the last year’s Unknown Territory Fellowship, as well as a founder of Space 1026, an artist-run collective that focuses on silkscreening, printmaking, painting, audio/video production and graphic design.  With his roots in painting (and a BFA from RISD after starting at Cornell in the Arts and Sciences), he’s spent the last ten years making art that incorporates circuit boards, wire, painting, printing, sound, light and other multimedia elements to explore contemporary culture.

Having worked exclusively over the last decade with physical materials, such as hardware and solid state electronics, he’s now moving into the world of programming and developing cool tools to produce new art.  We caught up with Max to talk about what he’s been doing at DM+D over the last several months.

Max Lawrence - work1



It’s a tool that can take midi music files, like the ones used for karaoke, break them down into their components for text, pitch and timing, and allow them to be recombined in all sorts of ways to create completely new music and visualizations.  The output can do all sorts of things, like vocalize words, display a visual on a screen and provide input for other programs.  In this way, the raw data could be combined in countless ways to create new music or art that builds off or responds to the original midi files.


I needed someone to tell me where to start for my next project, and that’s what the Hacktory crew was able to do.  They told me where to start, what I needed to do, and how to approach it in a manageable way.  It’s been an amazing experience, but it hasn’t been easy.  There’s been a lot of new stuff to learn.


That’s a good question.  I think it was a sideways apartment building out of a giant cardboard box.  Giant cardboard boxes are awesome.


My father and mother and my father’s mother, granny Ruth Lovell, are numero uno.  She had a degree in physics, which is remarkable considering that, in her day, women didn’t even go to college. Along with her brother-in-law, Bun Lawrence (who didn’t have a degree in physics but did co-found the American Rocket Society), and her insane WWII Marine Corps test pilot husband (GrandPa), she developed the Redstone Rocket and started Reaction Motors, which was later absorbed into NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Though much of U.S. rocket development is attributed to Wernher Von Braun, the United States already had an equal caliber scientist to the Germans. The inspiring part is the fact that a woman (Granny Ruth), a professional crash dummy (GrandPa) and an old-fashioned inventor (Bun) developed this rocket system in a garage in New Jersey, test launched them in people’s backyards (and then ran from the cops)—all while trying to take accurate measurements. Grandma finally had it with stuff blowing up so she made them move it out of the house and get a new location.

Aside from them, I’ve been influenced by Jeff Blankinsop.  The dude is about as punk rock as you can get.  Hisao Tiwao and Larry Seven are also two of the most inspiring individuals I’ve met in a long time.  Hisao developed the dancing Alka-Seltzer pill that jumps into a glass of water in the 1980’s commercial completely using magnets and math.  Larry is nuts.  He can’t operate a cell phone, but he can build an entire radio station from scratch.  And Timothy Hawkinson.  He makes stuff with motors on it, and it’s arty.  And Chris Vecchio.  Because he’s the one who introduced me to engineering.  He’s an engineer and an artist at the same time.


Comprehension is the best part.  You can’t choose the time and place where you’re going to comprehend something, so it’s exciting when it happens. And repetition is the only way that you get there.

Max Lawrence - Lion Circuit


Max Lawrence - lighted head

Meet The Hacktory’s Allison Frick

DECEMBER 18, 2014


Our first exhibition, #MadeAtDMD, opens tonight in the Esther Klein Gallery, and it’s not to be missed. Why shouldn’t you miss it? Well, for starters, there’s the giant double spirograph that Allison Frick and Eric Manganaro built. (It draws Lissajous curves! Don’t you need more Lissajous curves in your life?)


Allison started coming to DM+D about a year ago for Drop In + Do. When Hacktory director Georgia Guthrie overhead Allison talking about doomsday prepping, pickling and canning one night, she suggested Allison teach a class. In a Pickle: Canning for City Dwellers has now been offered twice at DM+D.

It’s hard to keep up with all of Allison’s present and past projects—the long and varied list includes sewing and pickling, toothbrush robots and collaged antique maps, denim quilts, clothespin snowflakes, and now, giant spirographs. She also works as a librarian and helps run The Hacktory’s Kid’s Club on Friday afternoons. We caught up with Allison between projects to find out more about this busy maker.



I am a youth services librarian during the day, so I am always working on a bunch of projects for that at any given moment. Tomorrow Eric and I are making Bristlebots with 40 children at the Glenside Library, and I am making 120 snowflakes out of clothespins for a Frozen party in January that is almost definitely going to turn into a toddler rager. I also have a bunch of projects at home that I want to finish up. I make my own clothes and there is a very tasteful purple leopard print dress that needs facing. I’m also sewing the binding on a few quilts and doing last-minute canning and pickling for gifts…and laundry soon, before I run out of socks.


Working at DM+D has definitely forced me out of my comfort zone. When I pick my own projects, I tend to use techniques that I already know how to do, like sewing or silk screening. When I design lesson plans for Kid’s Club, I try to think of things that they would enjoy making that involve science, design, and engineering.

I really got involved at DM+D because I wanted to learn how to use the lasercutter, which I have. Having access to the woodshop is great, and being around people who will take the time to help you when you get stuck is even better. I have learned so much technically, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to teach.


A mess. I used to make potions when I was very little. My mom still has two of them in her kitchen. After over 25 years in direct sunlight the colors are still super vivid, which now worries me slightly. I wonder what kind of toxic goo little Allison was working with.


The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. I got really into them in art school and got to take my class to see their exhibit at the PMA when I was a preschool teacher. I love how each piece is unique and how so many are made from fabric that has a history, like worn-out clothes, corduroy scraps from other projects, etc. One of the women in the community spoke about not worrying if you do not get something perfect, because that is what makes the work your own. That really stuck with me and helped me to stop stressing about making everything right and just focus on making.


It is a toss-up between the initial spark of excitement that comes with a new idea and the relief that comes with being finished. The in-between problem solving can get a little bit frustrating.

Meet the Building Hero Bell Sisters

DECEMBER 11, 2014

IMG_4530Visit Public Workshop’s brand-new Etsy store and you’ll see the work of numerous Building Heroes—including the Bell sisters, Tiarra and Tamira. The 16-year-old twins designed and fabricated the Building Hero Multi-Tool and the Diamond Lamp, both of which are now for sale. (See the Etsy description for the full story on how that second object came to be.)

Tiarra got involved with Public Workshop more than a year ago when Alex Gilliam visited Science Leadership Academy, a partnership high school between the School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute. He offered a group of ninth-grade girls the chance to work on any project they could dream up to transform their school, and they settled on these rolling hangout pods. The Bell sisters have since become familiar faces at DM+D, as well as participants in the Building Heroes program.

“Each day I come to Public Workshop, I have a reason to smile,” Tiarra says. “It’s what I look forward to after a long hard day at school. It’s where I find my peace. It’s Zen. I come here knowing that I get to work on something really cool that will one day impact many people.”

Tiarra and Tamira answered five questions for us about their current projects, their design inspirations, and the makers who’ve influenced them most.



Tiarra: At this very moment, I am working on Christmas ornaments. I’m prototyping different versions of the ornaments: they look like wooden blocks with vibrant stripes of paint on them. Also, I have snowflakes that I designed on Adobe Illustrator, which I should be lasercutting soon, but the blocks seem to have consumed most of my time. Hopefully by the end of this week they will be up on the Etsy shop!

Tamira: I am working on something that is dear to my heart: CHOPSTICKS! I absolutely love chopsticks, but the problem is that I only use disposable chopsticks, which can only be used once. I want to make a pair that will last a long time. Hopefully, I can come up with something great that can also be sold on the Etsy page. I am also working on the Maker Space at Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber. There, I am teaching and working with some of the students on how to better their school through building.


Tiarra: DM+D has inspired me to handcraft my dreams. When I should be doing homework, I’m always surfing the interweb trying to find new ideas for things to create. Since all the tools are accessible to me, I’m able to make almost anything my heart desires. DM+D also inspired me to think outside the box. I get the opportunity to make something that no one on this planet has.

Tamira: DM+D inspires me to solve my problems through building. If I discover that I have a dilemma, such as I lose pencils a lot, then I solve that problem through building something. To solve my pencil problem, I made pencil clips to attach my pencil on my clothes.


Tiarra: I can’t really remember the first thing I made on my own. Mostly everything I do as a Building Hero requires collaboration. We work as a team to make a product the best it can be. We work side by side, reflecting on and critiquing each others’ work. Nothing great in this world can ever happen on its own. It needs the help of other people to make it great.

Tamira: One of the things that I remember making on my own was a box/container that would go on the front of the Mobile Maker Cart. The box was made to store brochures, papers, and other knick-knacks. Even though it was a little sloppy, I was proud because it was the first thing that I built on my own.


Tiarra: Alex [Gilliam] has had the biggest impact on my life because he has dug up a passion inside of me that could possibly have stayed hidden forever. Before being involved with the Building Heroes, I was really questioning what I wanted to do with my life. I was exploring a lot of things, but everything I tried just didn’t feel right in my heart. Ever since I met Alex, my life has been dramatically transformed. He helped me realize what I want to do in my life. Through his critiques, I’m a more open-mind person. I actually want to hear people’s opinions and critiques, because that is what helps me become a better designer. I also have more confidence.

Tamira: I think that everyone has had a huge influence on me at DM+D, but if I were to narrow it down to one person, I would say Max Yousey. Max taught me a lot of the basics to woodworking. I really admire his patience with me because I was kind of horrible and didn’t understand a lot of things when it came building. But he took his time and explained everything very clearly. He was also very nice and pleasant to work with, thus leading an example of how I should treat others at DM+D. Thanks, Max!


Tiarra: My favorite part is using my hands to craft something awesome. I love working really hard and using all the tools to create something that I know I will be proud of. I also like working with the other Building Heroes to get their feedback on how to make the product the best it can be.

Tamira: My favorite part of the creative process is when we are done and we have the finished product. I just get that sense of accomplishment that I made something with my own two hands!

Meet DMD Alum Coby Unger


DECEMBER 2, 2014


Coby Unger is, by his own description, “a maker of things and a connoisseur of high fives.” He’s also a familiar face at DM+D—and, as of last month, the co-star in an Atlantic article on prosthetic limb design.

While studying industrial design at Philadelphia University, Coby worked with Public Workshop on Smith Playground builds and Building Heroes projects. When he graduated from PhilaU last May, he traded Philly for San Fran and became an artist-in-residence at Instructables. Now he works on the shop staff at Pier 9—Autodesk’s fabrication facility—and has a part-time artist residency at Autodesk.

It was in that role that Coby met Aidan, a 9-year-old whose left arm ends just below his elbow. Aidan had designed and prototyped his own prosthetic at Superhero Cyborg Camp—a KIDMob program for children with upper-limb loss. When Coby Skyped in to the camp’s final presentation, he immediately wanted to help develop Aidan’s idea further.

Coby tells the full story in this excellent video, including how he built an open-source prosthetic arm that includes fork, Lego and Wii-mote attachments, and can even expand as Aidan grows:


We caught up with the busy DM+D alum to find out more about his current projects, his inspirations, and his earliest making attempts.



I’m working on a giant set of K’Nex for Smith Playground that are going to be called K’Flex. They’re approximately four times the size of regular K’Nex. I also just started working on a double-decker standing desk for Pier 9. It’s like a bunk bed, but at work. One person is at a seated-height desk. The person facing them is elevated and at a standing-height desk with the desks overlapping by about two-thirds. It’s mostly for space saving, but also just for fun. Underneath the standing platform there is going to be a bed—like a naptime space. There is a specific spot for it at the [Pier 9] office already and people are bargaining about who gets which space on the double-decker. It’s very much like a bunk bed from summer camp.


I’m way more excited about working with teenagers as builders and designers. I think there’s a different sort of creativity that kids have. Kids are not afraid to say, ‘I think this would be cool; let’s make it.’ That was one of the best things about working on the prosthetics project with Aidan. Working with kids makes projects more powerful and more fun, and it’s a great opportunity for everyone involved.


There’s a photo of me, probably around age 8 or 9, wearing this construction helmet that has a bunch of tools Velcro-attached to it. It was a utility helmet so I could keep all my tools close at hand. That’s one of the first things I remember making.


My dad was a carpenter when I was younger, which was influential for sure. My friend Rob’s dad was really cool. He’s still a tinkerer-maker. For the helmet, I was really inspired by him. He had a utility helmet that was way more usable.


I just like building things. I don’t like the stages of drawing and sketching or CAD work. What I like is just building stuff, and I kind of go crazy if I don’t have at least one or two actual build projects going on at a time. I also go crazy when I have just one thing. I like to be able to bounce around and do a bunch of different stuff at the same time.

I like to build full-scale immediately. If I need to do it more than once, that’s fine. But I learn better about how to do something by doing it rather than by sketching it out or doing CAD or anything. I’d rather build something immediately and make mistakes, then build it again and fix things if I need to.

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