Category Archives

Posts in Uncategorized category.
Atlantic Canada Innovation Fair 2023

Current Gen students were asked to run a soldering station at the Brilliant Labs Atlantic Canadian Innovation Fair. The tables were busy all day long, even as students were being called to get on the buses to go home, we were still going strong. “This was so much better than I thought it would be.” “Now I can fix things.”

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!