I’ve always loved computers. When I was six or so, I realized that instead of making all my Christmas thank you cards with crayons, I could do a mail merge — my mom says I’ve been hooked ever since.
At about 8 I started to rip apart old computers in our basement, for fun, and the challenge was to put everything back together and make it work better than before.
I spent the summer after 5th grade working on an old Tangerine iBook laptop I bought from eBay. At first, my dad said he thought it was pointless to dissect a perfectly good computer. My mom convinced Dad it was an education, and I could be doing a lot worse things with my time. I remember that Tangerine iBook like it was yesterday. It taught me tons. In my research on the ins and outs of that computer, I learned about the MAKE movement.
MAKE seemed like a whole new world to me. I felt like I had found people like me. I went to school, sure, but that was not my support group. Sometimes it was just the opposite. Makers — their minds, the ideas swirling around, the junk turned into treasures, the energy of people who would enjoy turning an old laptop into something that could change the world — well, they inspired me. I would read their blogs, see what they were into, and I heard about the Maker Faire, and I wanted to go. Bad.
The first year I mentioned I would really love to go to the Maker Faire, I’m pretty sure my mom looked at me with a dead stare, wondering what I was even talking about. So
I figured it was a “no” that year.
Then, in the fall of 2010, I came down with a very rare illness — the only reported pediatric case in the world of what I had. I was in the hospital for weeks, didn’t eat or drink a thing, and I guess it was looking pretty bad. I remember a blur, coming in and out of feeling too terrible to even want to be awake. My mom was there, and at one point, she asked me what was the one thing in the world I’ve always wanted to do but never did?
I told her I wanted to go to the Maker Faire … it was such a nice thought in my head, all that “making” stuff; I wanted to feel that energy. It was the first thing that came to mind. I know my mom had no idea what I was talking about, but she looked it up and bought tickets to the 2010 NYC World Maker Faire from my hospital room. She told me later that when she pressed the “buy”
button, she said a prayer I’d make it.
Well, I did! About six weeks later, we were in NYC. Even though I was still recovering, it was an awesome day. My friend Vincent came too. We both learned to solder there, and just in time, because I needed that skill to begin working on my science fair project — a telepresence robot named MAYA (“Me And You Anywhere”) that I had been dreaming about in my head and researching
for about two years.
That science fair project turned out to be pretty successful! I won “best in show” in every fair I entered, and returned to the 2011 World Maker Faire as a featured presenter. My project won four Editor’s Choice Awards from Maker Faire officials.
Eventually, MAYA was entered into the only available national science fair for middle schoolers, the Broadcom MASTERS Fair, and I was chosen as one of 30 National Finalists. The Broadcom program really gave me the incentive to keep improving my project and learning. I went to Washington, D.C., to compete for a week, and I wound up becoming the Broadcom MASTERS Silver Medalist in October 2011. I was later chosen by the Society for Science and the Public to represent the Broadcom MASTERS program at the Presidential Science Fair at the White House in Washington! I was one of only a few kids allowed to personally present my project to the president.
Quite a trip from that hospital bed!
PS: I still love to solder!
Hero: Steve Wozniak
Favorite Accomplishment: Broadcom Masters/White House Science Fair
Favorite Tool: CNC Mill
Current Project: Artificial
Ben Hylak, one of the young scientists/inventors honored at the White House yesterday, wrote his touching and inspiring story for the CNN website. The story, and an accompany teaser video, are a preview to this weekend’s episode of “The Next List” on CNN. The program will contain a 30-minute profile of MAKE founder Dale Dougherty and cover MAKE, Maker Faire, and the maker movement. Tune in to CNN, Sunday, 2pm EST, February 12th.