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Maker Faire Detroit: Pumpkin Embalmer interview

Maker Faire Detroit: Pumpkin Embalmer interview
maker faire detroit pumpkin embalmer.png

The first ever Maker Faire Detroit is taking place next weekend (July 31 and August 1) at The Henry Ford, and the more I read about the over 250 makers who will be displaying their creations, the more I’m amazed at the variety of projects that will be there. Arts, engineering, robotics, food, you name it. Today we chat with Steve Frey, the brains behind Dr. Frybrain’s biodegradable Pumpkin Embalmer.

1. Tell us about the project(s) you’re bringing to Maker Faire.
Pumpkin Embalmer is a chemical formula that extends the life of carved pumpkins, aka jack-o’-lanterns. Normally pumpkins only last a day or two before they start to rot. Why? Decay bacteria need two things: water and food. A pumpkin is 90% water, and the other 10% is food! The bacteria also need an acidic environment (pH below 7), and pumpkins are naturally acidic. Pumpkins will also start to shrivel as they naturally lose their moisture.

When a carved pumpkin is soaked in the Pumpkin Embalmer solution, the natural moisture is drawn out of the flesh of the pumpkin, and it is replaced with a mineral. This starves the bacteria of their water source, and at the same time helps to retain the pumpkin’s natural shape. The solution also has a high pH level (basic), which raises the pH of the pumpkin, thus retarding the growth of the bacteria.

2. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you decide to participate?
A friend of ours is actively involved in the DIY “Home Haunt” scene, and suggested we attend. We are hoping to find a company or individual interested in licensing our chemical formula (U.S. patent pending) and registered trademark, to produce and distribute the product.

3. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
Ever since I can remember, I have always loved working on some sort of a “project” or craft. By the time I was in junior high school, I knew that I wanted to design things for a living. Back then, everything was done on a drafting board with a pencil, but as I progressed in my profession so did technology, so now I work out my designs with state-of-the-art CAD software.

I can’t say that anyone has ever inspired me, as I have always been a self-starter. I will say, however, that I have a great respect for men like Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo Davinci because they did not accept the world for what is was, but rather imagined what it could be.

4. Is your project strictly a hobby or a budding business? Does it relate to your day job?
Invention is my hobby. Pumpkin Embalmer is only one of my inventions. In fact, at any given time, I am working on or experimenting with at least half a dozen different ideas. For me the joy is in the design of something that has never existed before, but once it has been created, I seek out ways to turn my ideas into a business. In my day job, I design things for companies, with their goals and objectives in mind. When I design for myself, I am free to be much more creative.


You know you want a picture with Dr. Frybrain’s 1983 hearse, which will be parked on-site all weekend.

5. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
I am encouraged by the advancements is rapid prototyping. The higher-end machines are coming down in price, while the lower-end machines are improving their capabilities. I am hopeful the two will meet in the middle soon, so that we will have a high quality, yet affordable, machine.

6. What is your motto?
I have a few that I like, depending on the situation:

a. Work smarter, not harder.
b. Challenge the notion that something has to be a certain way because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”
c. Do something right, or don’t do it at all.
d. No half measures.

maker faire detroit pumpkin embalmer logo.png

7. What advice would you give to the young makers out there just getting started?
Just START! Try out an idea. If it doesn’t work, that’s alright. Don’t treat it as a failure. Consider it a learning experience. Try it again, but maybe a little different the next time. But most of all, don’t listen to people who tell you that your idea will never work. Where would we be right now if the Wright brothers or Steve Jobs listened to such advice?

8. What do you love most about Detroit?
We can do anything here, and the rest of the world knows it. When I travel, being from Detroit gives me instant credibility.

Thanks, Steve! Folks, if you’re in the Detroit area next weekend, come play with us at The Henry Ford. All the information you need, including how to get tickets online, is on the Maker Faire website. See you at the Faire!

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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