Scribbling Machines in the classroom

It's always nice to receive documentation of our work spreading outside the confines of the museum—in fact, it’s the reason why we make free guides for our activities! We just received this awesome video from a teacher who, after taking our Coursera class on Tinkering Fundamentals, used Scribbling Machines as a team building activity to kick off the school year! I particularly like the idea that “you have to train your Scribbling Machine”…


Tinkering Social Club: Milk Cartons Re(imagined) with Aiko Cuneo

Tinkering Social Club Aiko Cuneo

Turn a common household object into an objet d’art! Join artist Aiko Cuneo and experiment with milk carton constructions and sculptures. Using this deceptively simple object was first explored at the Exploratorium 40 years ago this month by Aiko's mother, renowned artist Ruth Asawa, when she was one of the museum’s first Artists-in-Residence. Aiko, then a young artist, worked alongside Ruth to push the mathematical and sculptural possibilities.

Aiko Cuneo building

Now Aiko will share her practice and love of geometric forms with you. Through simple shapes repeated in three dimensions, you will create sculptural shapes that can be chandeliers, lampshades, baskets, or decorative pieces, and participate in a collaborative artistic effort.

Mother and daughter have both recognized the importance of the arts in education, and worked tirelessly towards this effort. As an outspoken arts activist, Ruth Asawa’s thoughts on the subject are as salient today as they were back then:

“I am primarily interested in making it possible for people to become as independent and self-sufficient as possible. This has nothing really to do with art, except that through the arts you can learn many, many skills that you cannot learn through books and problem-solving in the abstract. A child can learn something about color, about design, and about observing objects in nature… Art will make people better, more highly skilled in thinking and improving whatever business one goes into, or whatever occupation. It makes a person broader.” – Ruth Asawa

Ruth's mentor Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller visited the Exploratorium during Ruth’s residency, so the curiosity around shape and constructions goes way back. We hope you can join us for the evening as we continue to celebrate this elegantly simple idea.

Ruth Asawa at the Exploratorium


TSC is happening Thursday, September 25, 7 – 9 pm.

Tinkering Social Club is possible through the generous support of Autodesk.

Adult-only evening hours are for 18+ only from 6-10pm on Thursday evenings; admission is $15 ($10 for members). Participation to Tinkering Social Club is at no additional cost.


Ten Million Turns

Last Sunday, Norman Tuck's 'your turn counts' exhibit reached a milestone of 10,000,000 turns and activated a new digital display screen from an ipod to activate the ten millions place. With some rough math on my part I calculated that the exhibit has been on the museum floor for about 420 days since the Exploratorium opened on April, 17th, 2013. Using that number as a basis for my guesstimations I calculate that the exhibit has been turned on average 24,000 times per day which comes out to roughly one spin every second (although in reality that's a bit of an overestimate because of the extra hours that the weekend is open for adult evenings, holidays, and special events).

So you might wonder when we will have to add another digit to the mechanism. According to my unscientific figures and assuming that museum attendance is roughly stable for the next decade, we will have to add a hundred millions place to the exhibit in eleven years and six months. Since the exhibit is a progression of display technology, Norman has until approximately Tuesday, Feburary 17th 2026 to figure out what format that digit will take. Will the numeral be a hologram, a biological display, a digitally fabricated structure, or a layer of technology superimposed on the physical world? I guess we'll all have to wait over a decade to find out.

And if current projections hold, and Pier 15 isn't submerged underwater by rising tides, in 115 years from now we will have reached one billion turns on the exhibit! Although I'm not planning to be around in 2141 it's fun to imagine how that far off digit will be displayed!


Electric Automata

Earlier this week, Gautham and Navanya from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology visited the learning studio for a mini-residency. They have an amazing aftershool and summer program as well as undergraduate classes related to making and tinkering. Our group was inspired by many of the workshop themes that they shared including interactive mapmaking, order and chaos, and patterns. One of the workshops that they offer is called "automata and circuits" so I guess we shouldn't be surprised by the contraption that they built on wednesday and left with us in the learning studio.




This beautiful automata makes connections between the wire of the turning shaft which is connected to one leg of the LED while the other leg recieves electricity from stretched out brass strands taken from a soldering iron tip cleaner.

It was very inspiring to meet with Gautham and Vanya and hear about their similar process of development and see how they have really stretched the possibilities of making and tinkering across many different settings. I can't wait to see how their workshops on linkages, mechanisms and circuits will lead us in new directions and ways of thinking about our current explorations of automata in the tinkering studio.


Automata Workbench Prototyping

As part of the cardboard automata workshop environment in the tinkering studio, we are hoping to present a collection of different types of experiments with motions and mechanisms. I got inspired by a box of wooden kit parts from cabaret mechanical theater to make a smaller "exhibit-like" way to explore the activity in a way that requires less facilitation. I also remembered seeing some similar ideas at the lawrence hall of science and the houston children's museum and wanted to see if we could come up with some way for visitors to test out different cams and cam followers and experiment with one of the aspects of automata making.

Here's a video of how the cabaret mechanical theater set works. This was a great start, but we still wanted to make a couple changes like adding a hinged top to the box to make the easier for visitors to play around with the mechanisms and quickly adjust the set-up. We also made the boxes a little bigger and took away a few parts that made the activity more stable but less conducive to tinkering.

automata 2014

automata 2014

We built three boxes and made a selection of cams, cam followers, and axles. The laser cutter was a useful tool for us to quickly prototype different shapes and sizes of cams. We also made a first attempt at instructions along with some challenges.


Taking some inspiration from our circuit board set, we wanted to make the materials friendly and approachable. It's a challenge to create exhibits with lots of loose parts so we also wanted to simplify the setup as much as possible.


So after setting up a quick prototype station, we rolled the table out to the Tinkering Studio to see how visitors would interact with the parts. It was a challenge not to interfere as this would eventually become an unfacilitated experience. As could be expected, it was somewhat difficult for many visitors to figure out how to use the materials, but we stood back and observed and most people eventually figured out the set up. A couple positive things that we noticed was that once people got going, they tended to spend quite a lot of time working at their automata. At the end of the experience you could tell kids were proud of what they did and said "I made this" or "can you take a picture?" which doesn't usually happen at exhibits.


Since we noticed in initial trials that people had a hard time figuring out which parts they could manipulate. Lianna made this great diagram to show the way the pieces can be moved which we hope will make a difference. We also added handles to the top to indicate that you could lift the top of the box as a first step toward rearranging the machine. As with all new exhibits, one of the trickiest parts is coming up with the right language.


So far it seems like the exhibit will be a good addition to the space. It's quite cool to have a place to experiment with the same phenomenon of cams and motions near the cardboard automata area for those who are too young or don't have enough time to build their own automata in our workshop. One of our goals in the Tinkering Studio is to create several levels of participation so that visitors can be experimenting with the same artistic and scientific principles on different timelines and scales. We'll test the exhibit a little bit more and if it seems promising we'll begin to figure out how to make the parts sturdy and robust enough to survive the floor while still keeping the personality and character of the experience in tact.