Mike Petrich and Karen Wilkinson of San Francisco’s Exploratorium‘s Learning Studio have a choice assignment this month. They are visiting a monastery in Sarnath, India, helping organize hands-on science workshops for Tibetan Buddhist monks.


Mike and Karen who run the Learning Studio program at the Exploratorium were brought to India by a program called Science for Monks. On the Learning Studio blog, Mike and Karen talk about their first workshop on Cardboard Automata. In this workshop, the monks were shown an automata with its mechanism disguised and asked to design their own version, guessing at how the original worked.

We were definitely surprised by the gusto with which the monks took to the challenge. Their observations were methodical, precise, and varied, even creative (for example, it was not uncommon for them to hold up the box to their ear to try and determine, from the sound of the mechanism, whether there were gears involved or not). They made very well-thought-out drawings and schematics of possible mechanisms, and then defended their ideas with each other with great vigor.

I asked Mike and Karen to consider writing a Make article on their trip. Mike wrote to me: “It is quite an adventure, the first time the Tibetan leadership monks have used making as a part of their science learning.”

So if monks are learning hands-on science and making things, shouldn’t everyone, everywhere, regardless of age, nationality or religion?