"Turn up the light: Integrating photonics in Fab Labs" #78

Do you know how light works? Phablabbers do! The Phablabs 4.0 project was devised to facilitate integration of photonics in the European maker ecosystem, through a partnership by photonics institutes and fab labs. Fab Lab Barcelona’s direct partner was ICFO, the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Castelldefels, Barcelona, as well as the Tinkerers Fab Lab (also in Castelldefels). Together we developed and implemented a series of workshops and contributed to the photonics toolkit in the span of one year.

One of the first workshops held in Fab Lab Barcelona was a flashlight challenge. As a start, participants were to understand how turning concepts into products works, and they started with putting together the flashlights from pre-designed parts that were either purchased or fabricated beforehand in the lab. To add their own flare, they used vinyl cutting techniques to make their own masks for the light - like a “Bat Signal”.

The second challenge was to take this further: How can we use different properties of light to iterate another object? The answer was to create lenses to concentrate the light. The participants fabricated their own lenses from fairly common materials, and ended up with a torch that could produce a linear beam of light.

They made some beautiful light paintings and used the linear torches as part of an interactive installation, but the question was still there: What’s next? What’s more? They realized that the line of light produced by the torch looked similar to the laser beam used in some 3D scanners, so was it possible to make a 3D scanner with this little flashlight? With support from the Fab Lab Barcelona/Future Learning Unit team, they ended up designing a 3D scanner that, yes, in fact did work like a laser scanner, albeit with certain limitations.

The fruits of the workshops were widely shared with the general public in Barcelona’s Science Festival and Maker Faire in the summer. The project was also presented during the annual conference held by the Fab Lab Network in Toulouse, France.

When everybody returned from the summer holidays, the project continued with further workshops and challenges held in Barcelona and Castelldefels. More active components and electronics were included, and projects such as a sun tracker and heart rate monitor were developed in Fab Lab Barcelona. Participants also made a 3-part color mixer and some funky art using polarisation filters. There were competitions on who could finish a laser labyrinth faster, after the labyrinth was fabricated and put together of course.

More workshops are to follow, but Fab Lab Barcelona has already met and worked with 300 young makers in total aged 10 to 14 in this one year. A great contribution was made to the arsenal of tools for physics education, together with all the contributing labs. Including actual students in the development of methodologies allowed us as educators to discover how to create better engagement and end up with tools that really work. We are excited to see what more we can all learn in the future, now that everybody is a bit better prepared.