April 4, 2017: Light, Photonics & Fun

Engineers, scientists, and industry professionals from the Silicon Valley chapter of IEEE’s Women in Photonics brought their passion for physics, optics, and LIGHT to Make-HER moms and daughters in an expanded, multi-activity workshop. We thank these remarkable women for sharing their knowledge and for being such strong female STEM role models!

Attendees  circulated among four stations, each illustrating key topics from optics and photonics. At the first station, a team of optical telecommunications experts, Dr. Shalini Venkatesh, Dr. Diane Larrabee, and Dr. Maria Anagnosti explained the guiding of light through total internal reflection with hands on experiments and telecommunications equipment. At the second station, Stanford Ph.D student Fariah Hayee and Dr. Hanxing Shi explained the basics of spectroscopy and diffraction. Unite to Light Board Member Suzanne Cross described her work bringing light to remote South African villages and showed how solar powered LED lights can be used to improve quality of life in rural communities. Girls then added a personal touch to this work by writing notes to include in the next overseas shipment of solar lights. At the third station, Dr. Maria Miriashnivili, Stanford graduate student Katherine Sytwu and Dr. Patricia Ramirez explained lenses and pinhole cameras and their application in photography. At the fourth station, Dr. Emel Tasyurek and Cisco engineer Fan Yang explored how visual perception can be tricked using various optical illusions.


April 4, 2017: Paper Plate Pachinko

Ladymaker Corinne Takara merged circuitry and game design in this Paper Plate Pachinko challenge. Beginning with a short lesson about the history of Pachinko in Japan, Corinne then asked moms and daughters to visualize themselves as game designers. Using a brainstorming wall for inspiration, game designers chose themes for their Pachinko mazes.


Mothers and daughters next wrapped a marble in conductive foil, built a single circuit with copper tape, incorporated a gap in the circuit, and then connected the circuit to a MaKey MaKey hooked up to a laptop. By bridging the gap with the now-conductive marble, teams found they were able to trigger sound through the MaKey MaKey device.

Once moms and daughters completed their single circuits, they added branches to build additional circuits and obstacles to create their mazes.

There were so many creative Pachinko mazes to see! Moms and daughters lined up for a gallery walk throughout the room and then shared what they found most surprising, most challenging, and most inspirational. Click through the following slide show for your own virtual gallery walk.

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We closed the session with a group shot.





February 7, 2016: Fabulous Fibonacci – For the Love of Mathematics

Ladymaker Bridget Rigby merged Fibonacci, fractals, art, and nature in this playful exploration of mathematics. Bridget gave an overview of binary – or base 2 – numbers by comparing them to the familiar base 10 numbers used in everyday math. Whereas base 10 numbers are expressed in 0 – 9, binary numbers typically are expressed only with 0 (zero) and 1 (one). Bridget led participants through an exercise converting base 10 numbers into base 2 numbers and then introduced an activity to turn math into jewelry.

Moms and daughters picked a personal power word and using base 2 math, converted each letter into a binary number. Using two colors of beads – one color representing “zero” and the other representing “one” – moms and daughters created a beaded segment for each letter of their power words.

Once their calculations were done and their beads in order, moms and daughters strung these beaded segments into binary power necklaces. Binary has never been more beautiful!

Bridget then took moms and daughters through an exploration of Fibonacci spirals and their representation in nature. From pine cones to pineapples, sea shells to galaxies, and daisies to sunflowers – Fibonacci spirals can be found everywhere!


Still more math fun was in store. Bridget opened a discussion about fractals. Fractals are created by repeating a simple process over and over, resulting in a never-ending pattern across different scales. Like Fibonacci spirals, fractals can be found throughout nature. Snowflakes, dandelions, lightning bolts and peacock feathers – these all are examples of fractals.

In the last exercise, participants used scissors and paper to apply a single cutting and folding rule repeatedly to create a fractal Valentine’s card.

This was a challenging project, but before long these flat sheets of paper were transformed into intricate three-dimensional pieces of art.

For those who want to keep their mathematical creativity going, Bridget recommends these resources:

Fractal pop-up cards

Vi Hart math videos

Margaret Wertheim’s TED talk on the beautiful math of coral







January 3, 2017: Puppet Physics

Ladymakers Erin Salter and Lauren Cage explored the translation of movement through the mechanics of puppetry. First, moms and daughters learned about a few different kinds of puppets. A rod puppet is constructed around a central core. Appendages are attached to that structure and controlled by separate rods. A pull string puppet (or jumping jack) is a figure with jointed limbs connected to a single pull string. When the string is pulled, the limbs move. A marionette is a figure with limbs attached to separate strings controlled from above.

After handling samples of these puppets and examining their mechanisms for movement, moms and daughters began planning their own puppets – each with its own story. What kind of motions and expressions would the puppets need? Which style of puppet would best tell the story? Which materials might bring the puppet to life?

Once they had selected their supplies, moms and daughters began creating their puppets.

Moms and daughters explored many different ways to build joints and control movement.

At the end of the evening, girls took the microphone to describe their puppets and stories, and then gathered for a group shot.


December 6, 2016: Rapid Prototyping with Recyclables

Ladymaker Sam King led moms and daughters through the process of identifying problems, brainstorming solutions, and creating low resolution prototypes with recycled materials. Beginning with a brainstorming exercise, moms and daughters identified problems ranging from barking dogs to dirty laundry. She then asked participants to identify their favorite materials to work with and personal themes – or styles – which included rainbows, turtles, sparkly objects, and soccer.

Once all the ideas were on display, participants chose a slip from each category and used those to brainstorm and sketch problem solving designs. What might YOU do to address barking dogs with sparkles as a favorite material and soccer as a theme?? With similar trios of seemingly mismatched requirements, moms and daughters began to get creative.

After this exercise, the teams were ready to identify their own problem, brainstorm solutions, and sketch designs.

With a wide choice of recycled cardboard, plastics, and art supplies, teams began generating physical representations, or prototypes, of their designs.

After they’d gone through the steps of problem identification, brainstorming, sketching, and building, the girls took the microphone and presented their prototypes. Click through the following slide show and read the captions to learn about the problem-solving devices our Make-HER ladies created!

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November 1, 2016: Lantern Luminaries

Taking her inspiration from Halloween, Diwali, and the many other cultural celebrations in which light plays an important role, Ladymaker Lindsay Balfour returned to help mother and daughter teams create sound and breath reactive lanterns.

While many of our return attendees have become familiar with the basics of paper circuitry, this project introduced a new challenge — the integration of a small microprocessor and microphone into the circuit. Lindsay set the expectation that the lanterns might not work the first time, and so encouraged moms and daughters to troubleshoot and iterate their designs as needed. As Lindsay noted, “making” is as much about process as it is about product.

Each participant collected her supplies: conductive copper tape, batteries, microprocessor & microphone, gumdrop LED, wires, circuit template, paper cup, and tissue.

The mother/daughter teams learned that while getting their LED to light was relatively straightforward, making the light responsive to sound coming into the microphone was far more challenging.

The girls persevered, until some were able to light their LEDs with only the sound of a breath!


Once their microphones were adjusted and their wiring was secure, the teams were free to turn their lanterns into art pieces.




October 4, 2016: Light-up Superhero Masks

In this creative paper circuitry challenge, Ladymaker Corinne Takara asked moms and daughters first to consider themselves as superheroes – with both strengths and weaknesses. Before any building began, our Make-HER girls identified the unique skills they bring to group work. From their abundance of creative ideas to their time management skills, their ability to calm people down to their organizational strengths – everyone had their individual superpowers. Moms and daughters also identified their “kryptonite,” those circumstances that are most challenging in group work.

With access to a full table of copper tape, LED’s, batteries, paper plates, and bling, moms and daughters followed a set of simple instructions to create their masks.


To close the workshop, girls took a turn at the microphone and described the process of building their masks and the superpowers that inspired the designs.

Before heading off into the night, mother and daughter superheroes gathered for a final group shot!

September 6, 2016: Back to School with Wearable Tech

Ladymaker Tenaya Hurst loves wearable tech. You’ll find her wearing sound-reactive, light-up jewelry and an Arduino programmed head piece, clothing often adorned with blinking LEDs. She also brought special guest Woodchuck the dachshund, who has his own Arduino programmed light-up vest.

Because Tenaya knows that sewing circuits with conductive steel thread, battery packs, and LEDs comes with a unique set of challenges, she devised a workshop that walked mothers and daughters through circuit design and testing before the circuits were committed to thread and fabric.

Moms and daughters first assembled their sewable battery packs, then attached alligator clips between the power source (battery pack) and output device (LED) for electricity to flow from positive to positive and negative to negative, and then integrated a two-part metal snap to serve as an on/off switch. Allowing the girls to experiment and troubleshoot created those “a-ha!” moments when LEDs lit up.

Once everyone understood how electricity should flow between components, moms and daughters were ready to replace alligator clips with conductive thread and sew their designs into fabric, wrist bands, headbands, and barrettes.




July 25: Plantable Eco-sculptures

Make-HER took advantage of a warm summer evening in this indoor/outdoor, earth friendly workshop. Ladymaker Lindsay Balfour opened the session with a brief discussion about environmental science, what makes materials biodegradable, and what the differences are between invasive and noninvasive species. How might different materials be used to create biodegradable art pieces that will decompose with the aid of living organisms and bacteria? What types of seeds will produce plants native to our area and how might these seeds be incorporated into art pieces?

Lindsay taught the group how to form sculpting material from:

  • 4 parts red clay powder
  • 1 part potting soil
  • 5 parts worm casings
  • California Poppy seeds
  • water (added gradually)
Mothers and daughters first prepped the soil with worm casings by mixing a small amount of regular soil with the worm casings to make it very rich and nutritious for the seeds. The red clay acts as a binder to keep all nutrients, seeds, and other materials contained within.

Once the dry materials were mixed, each participant took 1/4 of a cup of water and added it gradually, mixing with hands until the mixture felt like gooey (but not sticky) dough and could hold shape in a ball. The girls were careful at first, but soon everyone had their hands deep in mud.


With pliable balls of sculpting clay in hand, it was time for moms and daughters to get creative. Bamboo skewers and biodegradable twine became the scaffolding for sculptures. Moms and daughters built tiny structures, figurines, and hanging mobiles. One mother/daughter team even sculpted a name to bring home to Lorien!

Left outside, these sculptures should degrade and release seeds for a patch of golden poppies, the state flower of California.


June 7, 2016: Force Foundations – Carousels & Gears

Ladymaker Allison Berman taught moms and daughters about physics and engineering with an introduction to simple machines. Moms and daughters first learned how machines such as levers can be used to turn a little force into a big one. A seesaw, for example, is just a lever that changes the direction and amount (magnitude) of force. The lever has a pivot point called a fulcrum, the point at which work changes from input to output. While work (force over distance) must be equal on both sides, the distance and amount of force on each side can change. This means that a tiny force over a big distance can equal the work of a big force over a short distance. If a child weighs half that of her parent, she still can lift her parent high in the air by sitting twice the distance from the fulcrum as her parent.

Levers can be found everywhere. Even joints in our bodies are levers. Joints help us move by enabling us to use a tiny force from muscles and tendons to move our limbs. Bicycles combine machines all in the lever class; wheels, gears, and pulleys all are levers that rotate. If we picture the gears on a bicycle and the size of the wheels, we see that the wheels are always bigger than the gears. If we move our legs a small amount with a lot of force, it moves the wheels a much larger amount and we cover more distance than if we were walking.

After discussing the workings of simple machines all around us, moms and daughters began to experiment with force and motion with carousel boards and various sizes of wooden gears designed and laser cut by Allison. Girls learned that putting a lot of force on a small gear will slowly turn a larger gear. A large force on a large gear will turn a smaller gear fast. If one gear is three times as big as the other, then for every one turn that big gear makes, the little one will turn three times.

It then was time to put everything together in a carousel. Each team mounted their carousel base and large gear to a board with a 3/16″ wide peg and a metal washer to reduce friction. Girls chose carousel animals and added them to their base gear, then decorated their creations and finished each with a carousel top. The teams then assembled a series of gears on their boards to power their tiny merry-go-rounds with the touch of a finger.

Our Make-HER engineers combined very simple machines to create beautiful take-home carousels. Each carousel was different, as was each series of gears used to create its spinning movement. Best of all, the pieces all come easily apart and are sized to fit LEGO Technics axles for further exploration and play.

At the end of the workshop girls discovered that their gear trains could be joined, resulting in several carousels spinning with just one person turning a single small gear.