Monday, February 8, 2016

Paper Circuit Lightsaber

I've made paper circuits before, and in fact at a Maker Faire once, I bought circuit stickers and a conductive pen with real silver ink. So when we made paper circuits in class, I wanted to challenge myself by going beyond the basics. Looking back at my process now, it seems to fit pretty well with Resnick's (2007) Kindergarten Spiral from this week's reading.

First, Imagine: I knew we were doing paper circuits, so I started thinking about what I could make. Since I've been so involved in geek culture and cosplay, I wanted it to be relevant to that somehow. I've recently been deeply entrenched in the Star Wars fandom, so...the obvious answer was a lightsaber! And since my favorite character is Kylo Ren, clearly I was going to start with his lightsaber. Here's what it looks like:

Create: Once I had the materials in my hands, I knew I wasn't going to use my stickers or pen. The conventional LEDs shed more light than the stickers, and silver wasn't the right color for this. I tried out three LEDs on a coin cell battery to see if I could get the effect I wanted. The answer was yes!

When I tried sketching out the circuit on paper, though, I realized that the copper tape would interfere with the look I was going for:

Then I had the idea to fold a piece of paper, put the positive legs of the LEDs on the outside, poke holes, and put the negative legs on the inside of the folded paper! I had never seen a paper circuit done this way before. I had to figure out a way to make it work without having a prior example. So even though I knew how to make paper circuits, I created a new challenge for myself because I wanted my final product to look a certain way. Here's what my outside originally looked like:
And the inside:


I made a hole in the paper over where the battery went so that the positive lead in the front could touch the positive side of the battery. But... I found it only worked when I pressed the tape in the front down so it would go through the small hole. And even then, it was temperamental, sometimes lighting only 1 or 2 of the 3 LEDs. This is where I started playing around to try to improve things.
Play: I tried various techniques in order to improve the connections, since I knew stronger connections would make the lights shine more easily. I reinforced the connections on the inside with additional tape, and put some tape directly on the negative side of the battery. After doing so and seeing that the circuit no longer worked, I realized I needed to move the tape so it did not touch the positive side of the battery at all. That's why there's a bit of a clump of copper tape below the battery in this picture:
It worked much more easily now! (I still had to press down on the battery, though) It was time to go show it off!

Share: I excitedly showed my lightsaber to my neighbors. Both Justin and Josh (also Star Wars fans) had pretty much guessed what it was supposed to be. I took it over to show Kylie as well, and while I was over there, I saw Charlie's project. He was making a cube with small square holes in it, and there were tabs of copper tape sticking out of the holes. Of course! I should make a tab for my battery! Behold the power of sharing! I later went back to Charlie to find out more about his project, and I ended up helping him figure out how to make his circuit work. So sharing goes both ways!

The tab bringing the positive lead through the hole, to more easily contact the positive side of the battery
 At last my circuit worked with little effort. Here is the final product:
Does that look Sith-y enough for you? :D
Reflect: In reflecting on my learning process by writing this post, I saw again and again how constructionist concepts played a role in my learning. My goal was interest-driven: I wasn't satisfied to make a simple circuit. No, I already knew how to do that. I wanted to make a lightsaber. And that required challenging myself to do something I'd never tried before: build a paper circuit on two layers. Manipulating the materials helped me to better understand both how they and how circuits work. I had to make many mistakes in order to achieve my goal. And finally, sharing turned out to be one of the most useful contributions to this project.
...Back to Imagine Again: I now can't help but think about how to extend this project. Perhaps I could make a blue or green lightsaber (and the silver pen would work well for those). I've also been thinking about making a full-size Kylo Ren lightsaber, ever since I cosplayed him a few weeks ago at an anime convention. I borrowed a lightsaber then; I don't have one of my own. Why not make one? The important thing is to never stop imagining!

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