Last weekend I took a visit to the MIT Media Lab, easily one of my top five favorite places ever. I got to hang with the folks in the high-low tech group, who are working on some very “geek chic” projects. One of them is the TearDrop kit:

TearDrop is a kit that allows people to explore the creative and practical potentials of paper-based computing. What interfaces might we build if we could sketch functional sytems directly on paper? What will circuits look like when they are painted or drawn instead of etched or machined?

The kit enables people to paint functional interactive devices on paper. These might include painted sensors and actuators, functioning user interface sketches, beautiful drawings that integrate functionality and aesthetics, and working schematic drawings.

I grabbed some photos of Leah Buechley working on some LED prototypes for the kit. She explained that the LED and resistor were mounted on a laser-cut piece of acrylic, to which magnets were riveted through a layer of conductive textile connected to each side of the LED. She coated the drops with a urethane-based resin to round out the shape and give them a bit of color. Once dry, the LEDs can be connected to a battery module via conductive paint on a special magnetic paper. More experiments and photos after the jump!



The LEDs and other modules can be used on magnetic paper and on the Living Wall, a larger-scale interactive wall also made by the team.


The group’s also been experimenting with making textile circuits through etching. They’re using a salt and vinegar solution to etch away copper in a conductive fabric, and trying out different resists that make the traces useable afterwards. Turns out that beeswax lip balm works great!

Becky Stern

Becky Stern

Becky Stern (sternlab.org is a DIY guru and director of wearable electronics at Adafruit. She publishes a new project video every week and hosts a live show on YouTube. Formerly Becky was Senior Video Producer for MAKE. Becky lives in Brooklyn, NY and belongs to art groups Free Art & Technology (“release early, often, and with rap music”) and Madagascar Institute (“fear is never boring”).

  • David S

    I’ve seen magnetic connections before and think they’re awesome. By trial I’ve found you cannot solder magnets as the heat destroys the magnet (at least with the heat/solder I use).

    How do other people go about securing magnets to their projects to make the electrical connection? Strategically placed glue?