Summer at the StudioLab

Summer at the StudioLab 

Interning at the StudioLab this summer was eight weeks of chaos and delight. We started out with a couple of clear goals: preparing workshops for PUMA, making improvements to the space, and working on a personal project or two. But every week brought new tools and tech to tinker with, so by the end we had many projects, large and small, some finished and others ongoing.


We spent about a month mostly focused on PUMA, a summer program for high schoolers. For three weeks, they came to the StudioLab to learn about circuits and code. We started off with short workshops on rapid prototyping and paper circuits, but by the end of the program the students were working on light-up T-shirts that involved designing logos, sewing with conductive thread, and programming in Arduino.
Before and after their visits, we would plan and prepare activities for them. Often this involved going through the workshops in advance with trial subjects to determine the best materials, identify the most challenging parts, and generally make sure everything went smoothly. Cynthia and I even made our own light-up T-shirt so we could help the students design theirs.


The Pop-Up Book

My main personal project was a pop-up book about the StudioLab, which fellow intern Cynthia and I worked on together. We haven’t finished it yet, but it’s an children’s book with interactive flaps/pop-ups in which a group of children play out a fantasy adventure using makerspace tools and tech (like pretending to be a dragon with the motion capture system). For research we visited the public library and Rare Books and Special Collections in Firestone, and then we came up with storyboards and prototypes. We were somewhat sidetracked by all the other fun projects we worked on, so we’re in the process of making the finished piece now.

 Shefali Pop Up Book Shefali Pop Up BookShefali Pop Up Book

Card-Making Workshop

In August we used some of what we had figured out about the pop-up book and paper circuits to run a workshop for some Princeton University librarians and staff. We showed them how to make light-up pop-up cards. It was only an hour, so we used the paper cutter to design and cut the card-making materials in advance. It was really fun to see the final results, which ranged from simple underwater scenes to apocalyptic cityscapes.

New Tech Tinkering

Every time I got the hang of a project, a new one would pop up to distract me—and I mean that in the best way possible. My favorite of these distractions was the AxiDraw, a pen plotter that Aatish brought to the StudioLab.

pen plotter 

pen plotterpen plotter

StudioLab also got an embroidery machine! I spent a few days figuring out how to use it so that we could show people how to embroider their own custom designs. As a demo project, I made a lizard keychain with eyes that light up when you squeeze it, and a soft sign for the soft station.

Embroidery Embroidery
Embroidery Embroidery 

There was also smaller projects, like the ATTiny. During our paper circuit explorations it seemed like a birthday card would be a fun project to figure out, so I put together a mini circuit that plays Happy Birthday. I also made two versions of a paper lantern that involved cutting pretty intricate designs on the paper cutter and hacking into some fake candles. At one point, Cynthia and I even made stuffed animals.

paper circuits paper circuits

I got involved with the StudioLab pretty late into my four years at Princeton, so having this summer to explore every inch of the space was so much fun! I’m especially proud of our soft circuit work with paper circuits and embroidery—we reorganized the space, found the best supplies, figured out how to do some tricky things with the tech, and made demo projects to showcase some of the things you can do. The 3D printer and laser cutter often steal the show, but I hope our work encourages people to use some of the less popular but equally cool tools that the StudioLab has to offer.

Braid Theory/Tesselations

Tesselations are another interesting mathematical concept, related to how well can we pack objects in an area, for example, squares and triangles. Another typical tesselation that happens naturally are hexagons. In certain braids where we pick bunches of hair a hexagonal pattern would appear naturally. Mathematicians are still now trying to figure out possible tesselations for different shapes, and maybe some of those could find their way onto a hairstyle!

Braid Theory spherical geometry

Our possible hairstyles would change a lot if our head was flat! Cornrows (attached to the head) need to follow certain rules of spherical geometry. For example, there is a mathematical theorem known as “hairy ball theorem” (n.a. The theorem;s name has sexual innuendo but that’s how it’s called…) that says that you can’t comb the hair on a sphere without getting a “cowlick” or a “whirl”. Or course our heads aren’t spheres full of hair, the face in particular is (usually) hairless, so we can do cornrows like this.