How can we make learning about electronics more accessible to small children? This is the question that came to AnnMarie Thomas back in 2009, when she tried to imagine her 1-year-old daughter’s tiny hands working on circuit.
Prototyping boards and soldering irons are simply not designed with small children in mind. So AnnMarie, an engineering professor at University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, and her student, Samuel Johnson, spent a summer testing different play-doh recipes until they came up with two that worked well together: a salty recipe and a sweet recipe. The salty one conducts electricity really well (just like the commercial play-doh you can buy in the store). The sweet one is resistant to electric currents, so if you put them together, you can make a circuit. Perfect for tiny, creative hands!
AnnMarie and her 6-year-old daughter Sage have been invited to the White House Maker Faire today, and they are showing off Squishy Circuits. As you might imagine, they are pretty excited. AnnMarie and Sage often sew their own clothes, and Sage has made a dress specially for the occasion, complete with pink (red), white, aqua (blue), and stripes.
AnnMarie shares, “Squishy Circuits is a project that my amazing undergraduate students have been working on in my lab for years. It is a huge honor to be able to show this work at the White House, and to be able to bring my daughter as my helper is something I’m incredibly excited about.”
Sage loves Squishy Circuits because they appeal to her female friends:
Sage often notices that my engineering classes are often made up predominantly of male students. She has taken engineering classes and camps, and is often the only girl in them. This makes her frustrated, and she has really begun to try to show other girls her age (she’s 6) how fun making things can be.
Watch AnnMarie’s TED talk on Squishy Circuits:
Want to make your own Squishy Circuits? Here are the instructions. Or, you can buy a Squishy Circuits kit in the Maker Shed. And a final word of advice from the wise Sage: “Girls can do engineering if they believe in themselves and try.”
President Obama is hosting the first-ever White House Maker Faire on June 18 to recognize the contributions of makers who bring creativity and technical ability to a broad range of projects. If you are a maker or a friend of makers, please become an advocate for expanding opportunities for making and makers in your community.
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