Author Archives: Ian Fogarty

Budd’s COVID Circuit

Finally after a number of years of having different kids do different parts that all come together at the end, we have a single individual start from scratch and finish at the end all in one semester. He knew a little bit of 3D printing from his SMATH (Science and Math) class in grade 10.

He created a completely novel 3D printing case design that is customized to fit his own circuit board. He learned the electrical engineering, how to use Eagle to make the schematics, ordered the parts, printed the board using a Voltera machine, soldered the parts and is now in the final stages assembling the case.

It will be our very first full sequence of the Design Thinking process for both the electrical engineering and 3D printed case with little input or help from me. One advantage to COVID is that students are only attending classes every second day, which seems to provide the freedom for kids to do cool projects if they have the motivation and the time management skills to use their “freedom of time while under physical confinement”.

SRHS-RHS Solar Charger Project w Brilliant Labs and Gaia Project

My friend Koen has partnered with Jane Goodall to build a series of INNOVATIVE LABS SCHOOLS , one of which has been completed in the KAKUMA Refugee camp. They have teachers willing to teach locally as well as virtually. They have connectivity and some older smart phones, but they have no way to charge their devices.

I have been considering this problem as part of Current Generation for a couple of years. NavCanada tried to help us use palettes of Li 18650 cells from new but obsolete laptop batteries. It seems like the battery management of having multiple 18650 Li batteries is too complicated and too risky for a high school project considering that both UNB Eng and UPEI Eng would not touch it. Certainly single 18650’s may be reasonable to work with in the future, it is not OK to put them in multiples without some serious work, not to mention the transportation questions.

So, we are looking at NiMH batteries, knowing that from an engineering point of view, they are not the most efficient, but from a teaching and safety point of view they might be preferable. We will see what the final product looks like.

Here is an example about how chance conversations can lead to something. I was invited a couple of years ago to attend the MakerFaire at L’Abbey in Memramcook. There I met Jeff Gaunce from Sussex Regional High School. He and his students built an arduino based solar tracker. Fast forward to the start of the Pandemic and he reached out to talk about Essentials and Extensions for Physics given our truncated time. It did not take much time before we decided that our students should work together on the BrightCase Project- to build a solar powered phone/tablet charger.

We have been meeting once a week. Some kids are at home, some are face to face. Thankfully, yet again, Brilliant Labs’ Josh joins us, scheduling meetings around our time together. Together, the students have created a specification document after looking at the requirements of the phones and the use case in the camp. We have been doing some math to figure out what sized batteries we need and therefore what sized panel we might need. It looks like the panels that we have been using from Voltaic Systems following the MakerFaire NYC are not quite adequate. The Voltage is nice, but the current is too low.

I happen to be reading the SHAD Newsletter who featured AMIT from Naveco in Fredricton who specialize in gteen energy. He agreed to speak with us and during that conversation, alerted us to the idea that GAI Project might have some solar panels and other equipment that might be in the way.

A quick call to Jeff at Gaia Project revealed that we did indeed have more than a handful of fairly large solar panels, about 2 ft each side. They delivered a couple to Jeff at Sussex because he already had a few and one to Jeff at Brilliant Labs. Now we all have some to work with.

Over the Holidays, I connected with Jeff (yet another J) from Voltaic Systems. In the past, he sent us Beta panels after seeing our work at the World Maker Faire in NYC. He informed us that NiMH will need somewhere around double the amount of input charging current and output current. It might take 2000mAh of charging to our NiMH battery to provide 1000 mAh of battery capacity. He also suggested that we plan to source some of the panels in Africa. The panels are much cheaper there, about 1$/Watt. So a 100 Watt Solar Panel is about $100. With prices like that, they often don’t worry about being the most efficient and just get a big panel.

Perhaps we need a hybrid model. We talked about the idea of charging a phone twice in a day, once so that they can use their phones during the day and once again in the evening so that they can do homework at home. Perhaps the final product has a larger solar panel with an ATV LEAD-acid battery because they are plentiful there. They do not have to be awesome batteries for this purpose. Perhaps we can take some batteries out of the waste stream with this solution. This could be used to charge phones or perhaps our own student made external batteries that could be used at night.

There is value from a teaching point of view to have individual solutions that individual students can make and individual students can use. From an engineering and economic point of view, it may be better to have a large scale solution.

Again, Thanks to Josh and Brilliant Labs for his continued close attention and support. Also, Thank you to Jeff at Gaia Project for providing the larger solar panels , inverters and probeware etc… that makes this debate over individual or group solutions even possible. This is beyond the typical and called for.

Lights and Minilab w Brilliant Labs & Voltera


For a few years, we have been making lights. Our Canadian students learn electrical engineering and send lights to our friends living in light poverty who would give us feedback that started the design cycle over again.

What if the circuit board that the students made could not only be a working light, but could also be used as a lab to discover the ideas around electrical engineering. Our students would have one package where they could learn to solder and design. Perhaps more importantly, if we also sent a multimeter, our global friends could also learn about electrical engineering and then use the light to study anything else.

We had the paper schematic from the Masitek (blue and yellow) circuit and we had un-editable Gerber files. If we are to use the same design, but rearrange things to make it easier to test. We would need to learn to make our own schematics and Gerber files. However, we just started a pandemic and I did not know how to use Eagle, but I have been looking for a good use case to take advantage of the Voltera machine. This is what the Voltera was originally designed for.

Brilliant Labs to the rescue…AGAIN! Josh took time once a week during the whole spring Pandemic lock down to work with us virtually. I taught Series and Parallel Circuits which was part of our curriculum. But it was Josh’s work with students that got them up and running with Eagle. Students were able to design their lights, place test points for multimeters in strategic place and produce Gerber Files. It took only a sentence to cover a month of work. Jordan was a grade 12 student that really took this bull by the horns and has been the sustaining force behind this project from here.

Eventually, we printed the gerber files with the Voltera machine. I met Jordan at school even though it was closed. I placed the components, solder and newly printed circuits on the ground and sprayed them with lysol. The student came by, picked up the bits (CurbSide Delivery) and put it together at home.

Of course, it did not work the first time. The conductive paste works well, but as you manipulate the solder, the more it lifts. I suspect it works very well for reflow and surface mount components, but the through hole component bit seems borderline. It might have something to do with our paste being a bit old too. to be fair, we really need to retry this with fresh paste.

After a bunch of work, and realizing that the MOSFET was situated backwards, it looks like we have a working circuit.

Now we need to think about actually using it with novice students. Again, Josh from Brilliant Labs challenged and coached our students how to import the model into a 3D design software so that we could see how the components will look in Space. He challenged our students to also think about silk screening in anticipation that students will be able to orient themselves and take readings that would allow people to discover Ohm’s and Kirchoff’s laws. As soon as the skill screen is completed, we will send a way a few professionally created boards and get my current physics class to try it out. I suspect we will discover some other tweeks that are needed, but at the moment, it is looking pretty wonderful .

Yet again, Brilliant Labs went over and above. The individual mentorship that Josh has provided is the only reason we have made it this far. I can see in the future that a short course on Eagle would be useful to me. I have been trying to keep up with Eagle, but Jordan and Josh have been progressing too fast for me to keep up and still attend to my other students. I am worried that as soon as this student graduates, that this knowledge and skill will be lost at RHS.

Now that we are in the new semester, our students are online every second day and F2F every second day. In the two years that I have known Jordan, I do not think he has been even late for a class, let alone absent. So I was curious when last week when he was not in virtual class. I was ecstatic to find out that Jordan and Josh had been working together on the circuit and Josh was challenging the silk screening and 3D design. AWESOME!! My students are not waiting anymore, they are taking matters into their own hands and showing some initiative ! AGENCY and AUTONOMY…FUTURE READY!

Better, lighter, faster Face Shields

During the pandemic, we closed schools in large part to keep kids safe. We closed the whole city to keep people home and away from contamination. Yet, somehow, now that students were not in school, students were all of a sudden working 40 hours a week, during the middle of the school day. Not only are students now not learning, but they are also in high risk situations second only to hospitals and community homes. We are not yet in the situation like our neighbors where health care workers were relying on 3D printed masks. Our healthcare workers seemed to have the proper PPE. However, our students who were working in the service industry were very vulnerable, the debate on masks was still evolving.

One particular student who was doing well in class, but was not particularly enthusiastic in the normal F2F class, was flourishing in this pandemic. He was attending on line classes and also learned to design in 3D. He took the ubiquitous 3D printed face shield design and revamped it so that it was more flexible, faster to print, more cost effective and material efficient.

Because it was more flexible, when student would hit their new face shields on the car trunks, the shield would not fall off, but rather just bend.

Better, Flexible Ear Savers

Frontline Health Care Workers:

It did not take long in the pandemic before our students started to notice that their moms, dads, siblings, uncles, and aunts were coming home from work with sore ears. The straps for the masks were digging into the back of their ears from extremely long days of work. The same desire to act to help solve light poverty turned local.

Students found a design of ear saver to help prevent the ear damage. There was a design that was all over social media, but there was also a design made by Bessborough Middle School kids. However, my students knew that we had flexible rubber filament that might be even more comfortable than the PLA versions that were circulating.

The realization that this was going to be a long term event, the ear savers could not be single use. They would need to be sanitized. So they conducted some experiments. They sent some of their ear savers to a local vet clinic to see how they fit, if the flexible rubber would survive the autoclave sterilization process. IT WORKED!!! They tried 4 different thicknesses. 2 mm was too thin and too flexible to hold the tension in the straps while 5 mm was way too thick and over kill. It was 3mm that seemed to be the optimum rigidity, time, material and cost effective. We started printing them from my home and distributing these through the Bessborough Middle School network and our own connections.

Fridge Pulls for Pandemic Milk

Way back in March, just as we were starting to plan for a large round of designing and building of lights, the schools were closed due to the pandemic. In New Brunswick, we did not know for how long. Eventually, it was decided that students would proceed to the next class/level regardless of their work or lack thereof while schools were closed.

Students once the elation of classes being shut down subsided and the realization of the seriousness of the pandemic both locally and globally, they started to feel a loss of control and power. Interestingly, they used the initiative to solve real problems for real people that they practiced for the lights and applied it to the pandemic.

One group of kids noticed that their grandma could travel through the grocery store without touching anything that she did not take home, except the handle for the milk fridge. So they created a little hook to open the door to give another degree of separation between them and a contaminated surface.

Pandemic Activity

During the Pandemic, we have had a quiet social media presence, but that is not to say that we have not been busy.


Early in the pandemic, I was so proud of my students who used their 3D printing and Design abilities to optimize the 3D printed masks that were popularized. Their design uses 30% less plastic and prints faster.


They also created hooks to allow people to maintain a layer of distance from opening the doors in grocery stores when they get milk. I will write update posts re these activities a bit later.

Blue/Yellow Circuits:

On the light side of things, Josh from Brilliant Labs coached Physics students on how to use Eagle with the mindset of adapting our Masitek Solar Circuit (Blue and Yellow) with test points. Rather than us making the lights and sending them to our friends living in light poverty, perhaps the circuit board could also be used as a mini-lab to discover electrical engineering concepts.

We used the Voltera machine to make our first prototypes. Over time, as we trouble-shot, the solder would build up, but we think we are confident to order our professional boards.

Innovative Labs Schools Charging Units:

Our friend Koen Timmers opened on of his Innovative Labs Schools that he built with Jane Goodall. This one is at Kakuma Refugee Camp. They have teachers willing to teach, a few laptops and some individual devices. However, they do not have a good way to charge their 5V devices.

Fortunately, Jeff from Sussex Regional High School (who we met at L’Abbey MakerFaire sponsored by Brilliant Labs), reached out to talk about teaching in the pandemic. We decided to collaborate on this Innovative Labs School Solar charging issue. Again, Josh from Brilliant Labs is joining as both schools meet every Wed at lunch, virtually of course. Some students are F2F and others join from home.

Today, we are meeting with Jeff from Voltaic Systems to talk details. They offer commercial versions of what we are suggesting and we are hoping that they will give us some insight.

DesJardin Grant

Thanks to the generosity of DesJardin Insurance, we received a $3k grant. They award grants for programs that help keep kids in school. Both prior and during the pandemic, Current Generation has motivated students to work both at home and at school . It seems to allow students to take back some control that they have lost during the pandemic. All of this not to mention our friends living in light poverty who are now able to continue their studies. This grant will be spend buying batteries and solar panels. We expect to have about 200 lights available to be sent by the end of the school year. We are in desperate need for batteries, battery holders and solar panels! This grant will go a long way, but we are not there yet.

Polyhedron Tilted Tower

The Prism Tower seems like a large step forward. It is much lighter, still strong, and fits snugly together. It will be useful for illuminating a whole space. However, much of the light is NOT directed towards a page to read or do homework. So we modified things a bit and tilted the lens, a clear advantage to using 3D printed lens over the polycarbonate tubing. The Polyhedron Tilted Lens uses the same base as the Prism Tower. Can’t wait to get a bunch of these made and field tested.

Prism Tower v7: Revisions based on feedback from Sierra Leone

Almost exactly one year ago, we delivered some lights to @EducaideSL when we attended the Global Teacher Prize and #GESF in Dubai. The feedback was that the hot glue we were using because of ease of use, softens near the equator and did not hold sufficiently well. Also, we have known for a while that the polycarbonate tubing that we were using for a lens was better than the original thick 3D printed lens, but had the draw back of not diffusing the light and leaving a glare on the page. In an attempt to reduce the number of pieces, to making the parts fit more snugly so that crazy glue could be used and make a diffused light and reduce the overall amount of plastic, we redesigned the lens and the base.

The original lens was 3D printed, but it was thick, blocked too much light and was expensive, that is when our friends from Engineering Brightness Colorado ( came up with the idea of using polycarbonate tubing. If we could have a thin enough lens that is 3D printed, we could have more flexibility, and diffused light. But all of the thinner walls were weak and structurally unsound. Thankfully, while strolling at the Bosch-Dremel table at ISTE’19 Phili, Ian found multiple 3D printed vases. Bosch ad Dremel were generous to give us the stl files, which we modified for our purposes. This allowed for strength in the wall that were thin enough to let diffused light through, and provide air vents in the sides.

Switching from a cylinder to an oval shape minimizes the plastic and is designed to fit Grace’s Red Circuit nicely with LEDs on both sides of the board to illuminate a whole room.

See Grace’s Circuit for the Gerber files for the circuit board and the stl files for the 3D printer.

Let’s Talk Science : Digital Summit

The keynote started with Mr Fogarty pretending that he forgot his speech, speaking into his watch to have it delivered. While we waited, the Brad Paisley video, “Welcome to the Future” played showing how ,”Things I thought I would never see, Happening right in front of me. Welcome to the Future.” Then a drone flew in and delivered the speech.

If our students are going to follow all of their wonderful paths that were shown in the video they will need to solve problems we have never seen before. Problem solving has always required critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking, but- “Welcome to the Future”- these solutions will also need coding.

Current Generation was featured prominently at the Let’s Talk Science Digital Summit because of the way we can personalize student learning

As teachers/mentors, we place learning activities in front of students and because they love the making and the purpose of Current Generation, they are willing to learn things that they would not otherwise do, like public speaking, and graphic arts. All of a sudden there is a practical reason why they should learn, not just because it is an isolated class.