Welcome — Three Test Tubes and the Truth

Welcome — Three Test Tubes and the Truth

Cyberpunk. Steampunk. Dieselpunk. The Atari Punk Console. “What’s with all the punk?” people frequently ask. What on Earth could be the connection between rebellious, angst-ridden teen music and various geeky subcultures and styles of making?

Mainly, it’s about going for it. Doing first, questioning yourself later. Stories abound of folks like a young Elvis Costello seeing the Sex Pistols on TV and thinking: Hey, they kind of stink. I can do better. And with that, many a new-generation musical superstar was born. Punk literally gave them “permission to play.”

If I didn’t love Massimo Banzi already, I did after opening his book, Getting Started with Arduino, and finding an illustration from an old punk rock zine with a crude drawing of the guitar chords A, E, and G, and the instruction: “Now form a band.” As used to be said of punk rockers (and country musicians before them): they had nothing more than “three chords and the truth.”

So this brings us to our issue’s theme, Punk Science. All around the world, just as individuals and small groups are discovering the joys of tinkering with the made world, citizen scientists are also getting together to understand more about the natural world and the realms of science.

You can’t bring up the subjects of citizen science, biohacking, and exploring genomics without cautious sorts worrying about engineering environmental disasters or Homeland Security showing up to question the presence of your lab equipment. While we at MAKE value safety and being responsible, and all the citizen scientists we know feel the same way, in the face of over-reactive caution, we shout: Punk rock! Permission to play!

Be smart, do your homework, work safely, but get out there and do it! Peer under rocks, into microscopes, and up into the heavens. Extract your own DNA. Record and analyze the processes of your body. Play with your food. Experience science in your own hands, not just as cable-borne entertainment!

In this issue’s special Punk Science section (starting on page 36), we look at making your own lab equipment, offer tips for effective citizen science, show you how to throw off high-voltage sparks and do kitchen-table biotech, and even tell you how one maker built his own scanning electron microscope for under $2,000. Then there’s the RoboRoach [shudder]. And plenty of other fun projects to keep you in your lab coat.

“Punk” also implies simplicity, a big bang for the buck. In our cover project, Dean Segovis details how to use a motorized, spring-loaded “whacker arm” to create an automatic dog ball launcher. The dog plays fetch with himself! Further keeping things low-fi, Rick Schertle brings the classic Rocket Glider back to life in a project that’s as fun to build as it is to launch high into summer skies.

And if all these punk rock analogies have you in the mood to kick out the jams, check out Bill Gurstelle’s Sound-O-Light speakers, made from clear PVC pipe. They deliver a cool look, flashing lights, and surprisingly good sound.

Whatever you decide to build and explore, don’t wait for permission. The world is yours to jam. Go ahead. Do it. Be a punk!

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn
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