Tapping Makers To Meet Energy Challenges

At Maker Faire Bay Area this weekend, the first ever Make|ENERGY Pavilion will have Makers and exhibits from the Department of Energy (DOE) and its National Labs. DOE will showcase the exciting work that goes on at its National Labs but also feature the Makers doing the work. And they’d like to engage the Maker community to help tackle complex problems relating to energy. In short, the National Labs are working on many of our nation’s energy challenges including climate change, which can be seen as this generation’s equivalent of putting a man on the moon.

High school students built these robots with assistance from mentors at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Photo by Rachel Brooks

High school students built these robots with assistance from mentors at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Photo by Rachel Brooks

The Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, in an article “How We Can Solve Climate Change” wrote:

“Solving climate change is about the human spirit and our ability to tackle shared challenges together. It’s about ensuring energy security, expanding access to reliable and affordable energy, and spurring economic growth that creates jobs and protects the planet.

For all of that, we need innovation. We need more of it, and we need it faster. The climate challenge is more than any one government can solve alone.”

“Makers are creators and innovators and entrepreneurs, exactly whom we seek to engage here at the Department of Energy,” said Jetta Wong, director of the DOE’s Office of Technology Transition (OTT), in a press release. “But, they might not know about the incredible capabilities of our national labs, or the many ways Makers might work with them. They might not know that the Department of Energy is one of the largest supporters of technology transfer in the federal government. So we’re delighted to be here, joining with the Maker Movement to create, to innovate, and yes, to change the world.”

President Obama announces a new advanced manufacturing initiative while a 3D printed robotic arm fabricated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory poses in the foreground. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

President Obama announces a new advanced manufacturing initiative while a 3D printed robotic arm fabricated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory poses in the foreground. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

At the Make|ENERGY Pavilion (#MakeEnergy), nine of DOE’s National Labs – Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLLNL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), along with the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and OTT will be there exhibiting some of the latest and most exciting advances in energy technology. Makers will be able interact with scientists and DOE Makers, and share ideas about transformative science projects and technology solutions, and learn how they can get involved in the future of energy.

For instance, LLNL’s Makers will encourage the community to test their tech know-how and coding savvy in a fast-paced cybersecurity “hack-a-thon” to protect the energy grid. In addition, the Make|ENERGY Pavilion will have:

• A demonstration of how microbeads can capture carbon dioxide;
• A show of how optics are used in the National Ignition Facility, the world’s largest and most energetic laser;
• A hydrogen-powered vehicle that can get more than 500 miles on a single tank;
• A display of 3D printed metal parts;
• A look at space-related technologies that keep satellites from crashing into each other.

There will also be a 3D-printed Jeep, an area on Smart Buildings and Cities that showcases technologies that help reduce energy demand, and displays highlighting DOE’s work within the areas of energy generation and distribution.

Meet the DOE Makers

There will be lots of opportunities to meet the Makers behind DOE technologies and ask questions about the world-class capabilities of DOE’s national labs. There will be two panel discussions on the afternoon of Saturday, May 21, and one on Sunday, May 22. The first, moderated by Jetta Wong, director of DOE’s OTT, will explore the many opportunities Makers have to engage and partner with the national labs. The second, led by Charlie Russomanno, senior technology adviser for OTT, will be a Maker-to-Maker discussion with actual lab scientists who are Makers. On Sunday’s panel, JUMP 4 Innovation, moderated by Reshma Singh of LBNL, will offer a look at DOE’s newly expanded online crowdsourcing campaign that awards the best of clean energy ideas with prizes and incubation support. For more information, email [email protected]

DOE Maker: Joanne Lo, Sandia National Labs

Educated at UC Davis with a Ph.D from UC Berkeley, Joanne Lo is a member of the Technical Staff at SNL, working at their Livermore, CA site. Joanne said that she has always been a tinkerer. Her first manager at Sandia introduced her to the Maker Movement. “He brought his giant DIY water guns to department picnics and put on elaborate decorations (i.e. pirate ship on his lawn) every Halloween and Christmas,” she explained. “I started going to Maker Faires hoping to play with more devices that shoot things.”

She is part of a Disruptive Fabrication Design team, under Eric Paulos at UC Berkeley’s CITRIS Invention lab. The team focuses “on novel fabrication methods that bring sophisticated chemistry and material sciences out of the specialized laboratories and into the hands of the Makers.”

Joanne meets a lot of Makers at Sandia. “For a lot of us, our job is to constantly design and iterate in order to find solutions to problems. I would say we are Makers by the definition of our job description.” She also said that the job seems to attract those with a “Maker personality,” if you look at their hobbies. “One of our engineers is an expert welder who designed and fabricated a custom exhaust for his car, and our firmware engineer make drones do things that surpass those presented in academic papers,” she said.

She believes that Makers inside the national labs enjoy working there. “The national labs provide a very stable environment that allows Makers to free their minds to solve problems and tinker instead of worrying about getting funding or pushing products.” For Makers outside the lab, who would like to explore working with a national lab, she recommends talking to some of the engineers at Maker Faire. “Tell us what you’d like to do,” she said. “A lot of times even if we can’t find a position that fits you within our lab, the national labs are connected enough that we can help you find a lab that is a good fit for you.”

DOE Maker: Ron Zuckermann, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs

Ron Zuckermann is Head of the Biological Nanostructures Facility at the Molecular Foundry at LBNL. “I’ve always been a Maker,” he told me. “As a kid, I re-built engines, loved woodworking, and just liked building things.” He became a chemist and sees himself “combining a knack for building things with science.” He added that “the science of synthesis, which is building molecules, is really building stuff but at the molecular level. I’m building shapes and precise architectures.”

Ron has exhibited at Maker Faire and he published in Make: Volume 37 an article with Promita Chakraborty on “Peppytides”. It describes developing 3D molecular models of polypeptide chains, which can be 3D-printed as objects that demonstrate protein folding. “It helps people get a feel for what a protein chain is,” said Ron. “Most of us know what DNA looks like but we don’t have a clue how amino acids link together to make stuff.”

Take a look at Promita and Ron explaining the project in this Make: video:

“Being able to imagine in three dimensions is a key thing that we need more scientists to be good at,” said Ron. What he’d like Makers, and future Makers, to understand is that at the national labs you can do cutting-edge work “on things that have never been done before.” He added that it’s “original research” and it is not beyond the reach of Makers to do. “Students who intern at a national lab get an opportunity to work on these problems,” he said.

Ron’s own passion for making comes across immediately. He sees it as integral to his life and his work. “The fact that I didn’t let go of my hobby interests helped me with my own career,” he reflected. “And I never stopped tinkering in my real professional work.”

Come meet the Makers from the Department of Energy and the National Labs and talk with them about making our energy future much brighter.