Summer Makerquests, Workshop, Camps, and Ask the Parent’s Panel, May 9th, 7pm

Find out about kids and teens activities at Nova Labs. Summer Camps, workshop, and classes. Our kid’s programming show case will be on May 8th, at 7pm. Sign up here:

Does your son or daughter have a passion for taking things apart, building things, or working with tools? Have you been wondering how to best encourage your young maker? Want to learn the best ways to include Nova Labs in your child’s learning this summer? Want to know more about Makerquests?

This event will answer those questions and more. Bring your questions!

– How to leverage Nova Labs to Make a Young Maker who makes
– Makerquests this summer
– Q&A with Nova Labs parents panel! We have assembled parents from our maker community who have successfully fostered their children’s love of innovation through the programs available at Nova Labs. Learn from the experiences of these makers of makers
– Upcoming summer camps. Speak to the camp organizers. Drones, all girls drones, robotics, programming, internships, maker workshops with equipment sign offs.

DIYBio: Control a shark with your mind

Ed. Note: Blog post contributed by [Nick Carter], Maker, retired electrical engineer, who is active in the Robotics Meetup, DIYBio Meetup, Artificial Intelligence Meetup, and pitches in with STEM programs whenever needed.

Blog Contributed by Nick Carter, Maker, retired electrical engineer, who is active in the Robotics Meetup, DIYBio Meetup, Artificial Intelligence Meetup, and pitches in with STEM programs whenever needed.

The mind-controlled shark in action – view a video of it ‘swimming’ by clicking here.


While participating in the Nova Labs DIYBio meetings, I became interested in brainwave sensors and how brain activity can be applied. After some research the cheapest way to get into this seemed to be to buy a MindFlex game online. I got the MindFlex Dual because it has 2 headset/pickups. The EEG part is developed by Neurosky, who also sell their EEG amplifier/processing board for researchers. Initially I was just interested in looking at the game and the brainwaves and implemented a Bluetooth headset interface and could use an online program for Processing on the PC to display the filtered energy levels while playing the game.

After more research I came across a video of Open BCI developers controlling an air swimming shark – I decided to try that myself using the MindFlex game sensor instead. One major difference is that they used 5 players to control up/down/right/left and forward controls. I could only muster one or 2 inputs for control using the MindFlex.

After I got the game I found it was a great hit with both the DIYBio group and also the Saturday morning Maker Fun Project club (where I was volunteering) who asked me to make it control the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robots.

I used that project as the proof of concept for the Arduino/remote control hacking before actually getting the shark. I implemented the hack into the remote controller and made a chatty Arduino game that let players interact with the EV3 from Putty on the PC using W, A, S, D keys. I have not yet integrated this with the MindFlex but the same ideas apply.

Breadboard interface between arduino and game device

Breadboard interface between Arduino and game device

Then I got a shark and hacked the controller; I used a small relay board I developed after taking the Nova Labs Eagle CAD course to control the remote’s switches, electrically isolating the Arduino and the Remote control.

Rather than taking the MindFlex headset signals and interfacing them with cable or Bluetooth directly to an Arduino to do my own signal processing, I decided to use the MindFlex game base processing and use the Brain signal intensity signals driving the colored LEDs on the game. I found these signals were Pulse Width modulated to vary the LED intensity so I had to smooth them to make an analog level for the Arduino to monitor and set thresholds in my program to decide if the LED was on or off.

Although I wired out the 2 sets of LEDs for both player headsets, I only implemented the drive, leaving the climb/dive manual control for later. There are Red, Orange and Green LEDs lit for 3 levels of detected Brainwave intensity. To get the ability to turn as well as go forwards I used the Green to go forwards and the Orange to turn, alternating left and right when returning to Orange after Green.

Testing the shark tail

Testing the shark tail

I tested this with the shark tail wagging and interface electronics off the shark leaving the shark assembly and inflation for later. Inflation requires a fair amount of helium, I was quoted around $15 so I did not want to do this until really ready, plus an anchored tail was easier to handle.

Finally I inflated and assembled the shark, using helium from a “Party Balloon Kit”, and brought it to Nova Labs’ July 10 DIYBio meeting.

It is not as controllable as the Open BCI version but still fun to drive (although as you will see in the video, some manual intervention is needed) and I had a lot of fun implementing it.

For more details, there’s a slide deck on the Nova Labs Meetup “file” area, or by clicking here.

Biotech for Makers

Ed. note: Nova Labs member and frequent instructor for the STEM4Makers series of classes, Jennyfer Peterson writes:

Biotech for Makers

Sudhita K. leading a DIYBiotech session

Sudhita K. leading a DIYBiotech session.

We’ve had two Biotech for Makers classes in April and they have been extremely successful and well attended. Here’s why these classes are so valuable as supplements for making young makers.

As with all of our kid’s classes, I try to get the mentors to connect STEM and making. In this case the making is DIYbiotech. The sequence of connecting the class to a Meetup is also present since we have a very active DIYbio community developing all around us and at Nova Labs. I invited a student to give a presentation on his DIY marine biology in space project. The folks in that meetup gave him lots of feedback and asked lots of questions.

Our classes are not meant to duplicate school, but rather to support and supplement passions in biology and biotechnology. To add the hands-on to the book work. For example, in DNA class, we don’t just look for DNA and then go ooow, slimy (well, we do actually), but we also start with a question: What is the best of these substances (reagents) to extract the DNA? The students are then lead through the process to collect data for comparison.

It is astonishing that kids get so much practice with data collection, yet so little with study design and next to no practice with the logic of analysis and forming conclusions. It is good to have the parents present for the learning. This way they are active observers. Hopefully, this will show parents where they might need to supplement or help their kids. Science books are necessary but insufficient to producing great scientists. Memorization of facts is very important; I am a strong proponent of traditional science and math memorization of basic data in math and science. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, please.

We must be wise consumers to STEM supplements; Don’t just duplicate what the kids are getting at school anyway. If we assert they are not getting enough logic and analysis then choose where you spend your supplement time and money to add these missing bits in.

The mentor for this one is Sudhita Kasturi, a member with a degree in biology, who also developed the curriculum instead of using a canned kit. She develops her own material and is being advised by the great people at SciTech, Towson University in Baltimore.

Be sure to keep a lookout for DIYBiotech and other STEM4Makers classes at the Nova Labs Meetup page. There are even some summer programs hosted at Nova Labs – checkout for more info.

DNA Extraction in DIYBiotech meetup

Nova Maker Faire – Call for Makers!

Are you a maker?

If you don’t know, would you call yourself a tinkerer, hobbyist, entrepreneur?  Or even artist, sculptor, crafter?  Did you get one of those Arduinos or Raspberry PI‘s over the holidays and have no idea what to do with it?

The Nova Mini Maker Faire is approaching fast, and we would like you to be involved.


Projects range from the very old to cutting-edge new, and if you’re not actually done with something, bring it anyway!  You may find people willing to help or start up an interest group.  Some makers treat this as a way to get a project completed, because there is an actual scheduled date to get ready.

Bob (2nd left) with 1950-60's era Teletype upgraded with Raspberry Pi interface, and Brian (far right) learning about bamboo and carbon fiber composites at a Maker Faire.

Bob (2nd left) with 1950-60’s era Teletype upgraded with Raspberry Pi interface, and Brian (far right) learning about bamboo and carbon fiber composites at a Maker Faire.

If you dream of Rube Goldberg, this is the place to show off what you’ve been working on.  Just go to to register (direct link is here).  We can’t wait to see the great projects that you are working on.

Fred (left) and Mike (right) with their flying wing.

Fred (left) and Mike (right) with their flying wing.

Craig's epic marble machine

Craig’s epic marble machine

Mindframe Education partners with Nova Labs to offer STEM classes this summer


Mindframe education has partnered with Nova Labs to offer STEM-focused summer camps at Nova Labs. These summer camps combine fun and learning into one unforgettable experience that teaches students how to think and work like real engineers, scientists, creative designers, and developers. Students get to work on cool projects, engage in fun, hands-on activities, and develop real-world products and digital creations.


Some of the highlights of theses classes which run the gamut from programming, mobile app development, robotics, web design, 3D printing and even science are:

• Each camp includes instruction on the concepts and technologies, and fun, hands-on projects & activities
• All camps include a variety of fun break activities, indoors and outdoors, including games, challenges, and social time
• Students have access to real-world tools and the latest technologies
• Through individual and group activities, students will take part in hands-on projects that give them the opportunity to see their learning in action
• Students will grouped by age and/or skill level in each camp to allow students to learn and apply their new skills at a pace that’s suitable for them
• Students will be taught by tech-savvy, experienced designers, developers and engineers with expertise in their fields and a passion for teaching
• As the camp comes to an end, students will present their new creations and show off their skills to family and friends



The summer camps are one week in length, will run from June 22nd through August 28th and are targeted at rising grades 2-12. A complete schedule, and all of the details can be and a brochure with the camp schedule can be found at the Mindframe Education website at:

Nova Mini Maker Faire 2015

2nd Annual NoVa Mini Maker Faire, March 15, 2015

The NoVa Maker Faire is gearing up for its second annual family-friendly event that will bring more than 100 makers to a fun-filled day celebrating the diversity of makers across the region. The Faire will take place on March 15, 2015 from 10am to 5 pm at Langston Hughes Middle School and South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia.

The Faire will include makers, activities, speakers and sponsors. Makers will share their knowledge through hands-on projects for adults and kids on topics ranging from blacksmithing and primitive skills to 3D printing, drones and robots to building customized equipment for special needs children to creative art-making. Makers will be grouped in neighborhoods by their topic. Neighborhoods include: Young Makers, Creativity Lane, Drone Zone, Robotics, 3D Printing Village, Science Lab, Flight Path, Sustainability Village, and more.

Nova Labs members will be presenting Vehicles – Flight Simulator and Go Kart, STEM4Makers, Top Drone, and others.

There are many other makers to explore. The Chaos Machine is a large marble machine that can be modified by participants. Gravity is Optional presents science experiments you can do at home. The DC Area Drone User Group will also demonstrate drone design and capabilities. Jennifer Gluck of JenmadeIt and Jade Garret will present adaptive equipment for special needs children. Artistic topics include hand spinning yarn, creating art from recycled materials, 3D printed artwork, woodworking, and creating ArtBots presented by the Children’s Science Center.

You can learn about makerspaces in area schools at Camelot ES, Kilmer MS and Falls Church HS; the STEAM program at South Lakes HS; Robotics program at Westfield HS, and the maker program at Loudoun Country Day School.

There will also be five activities for Faire-goers to try: Nerdy Derby, Catapults and Ballistas, KEVA Planks, GEMS Take Apart Zone and Demo-Vation with UpCycle Creative Reuse Center. Nerdy Derby is a no-rules miniature car building and racing competition inspired by the Cub Scouts’ Pinewood Derby. In the Catapults and Ballistas you can explore trajectory, torsion, torque, force, and materials using these safe tools. KEVA Planks are addictive small building blocks to build and explore with – fun for children and adults. In the GEMS Take Apart Zone you can disassemble machines to explore how things work. And then in the adjacent Demo-Vation with UpCycle Creative Reuse Center you can create something new out of these discarded elements.


Children building with KEVA Planks. Over 10,000 KEVA Planks will be available for building during the Faire, courtesy of KEVA Planks.

GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math & Science) Take Apart Zone


The Faire will present eight speakers this year including: Dr. Lance Bush, CEO of The Challenger Center for Space Science Education; Jennifer Gluck who creates DIY adaptive equipment for special needs children; Vicky Somma, winner 2014 White House 3D Printed Design Challenge; and Chris Vo, Chief Scientist at Sentien Robotics and President of the DC Area Drone User Group.

Vicki Somma, winner 2014 White House 3D Printed Design Challenge, will present “3D Printing Without a Printer”


Credit – Vicki Somma

Food will be available for sale on site by area food trucks including: Doug the Food Dude, Fava Pot, Hardy BBQ, Mama’s Donut Bites and Tasty Kabob.

Advance tickets are available online now. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children through March 14, 2015. Tickets at the door are $20 for adults and $8 for children. Volunteer opportunities are still available which include a free admission ticket.

The Faire is thankful for the support of its sponsors including: Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax Connector, The Innovation Fund of the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, Google, AOL, School for Tomorrow, Reston Association, and Merrill Lynch. Community partners include: Reston Community Center, GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math & Science), and Workhouse Arts Center. Media sponsors include Activity Rocket and Reston Association.

Free parking is available at the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station in the County garage. Free shuttle bus service will be provided from the south side of the Metro station to Langston Hughes Middle School and South Lakes High School. Only handicapped parking is available at the schools. A bike valet will be available at the event.

Check the mobile website for complete list of makers and speakers, to volunteer and to purchase tickets. The site will be finalized the week of the Faire.


Blacksmithing, Credit – Everest Gromoll


Drone from DC Area Drone Group, credit – DC Area Drone Group


Solutions for special needs by Jennifer Gluck, Maker and Speaker, Credit – Jennifer Gluck

STEM4Makers: LEGO Build Day


On Saturday January 24th, Nova Labs STEM4Makers threw a huge LEGO party! The event attracted more than 30 kids ages 5 to 14.

There were lots of LEGO-related activities, each with their own dedicated zone. There was a LEGO Construction Zone with over 2,000 LEGOs donated for temporary use by Keane and Bryce Peterson. Thanks guys!

We covered the floor with a bib plastic tarp and the kids had a fantastic time building and socializing on the floor or the surrounding tables. The tables served as a way of keeping the kids in the LEGO zone, a very good thing for Kids activities in a working Makerspace.

There was a LEGO Racetrack zone where the kids could race their LEGO cars. There was a LEGO Arena where one could drive your robots. The tables were filled with various LEGO-related crafts such as Make Your Own mini-fig or Lego Kirigami. Since you can’t have a LEGO party without LEGO-themed food, there was the LEGO food zone. The Yoda Soda caused much comment and I resisted giving the chemistry of Yoda Soda lesson. While there was NO candy, there were lots of yummy alternatives that were healthy and gluten-free.

First Flight of Nova Labs Rocketry Group at NASA Goddard

On September 7, 2014, the Nova Labs Rocketry Group (or the Nova Labs Space Division) had its first launch at NASA Goddard.  Featured were several rockets designed by our own NL kids.  We have several successful launches, fielding nearly 20 rockets.  We also launched 2 prototypes of our HARP (High Altitude Rocket Project) ships to see if they would be stable in flight, and they were, even though one of them snapped off its longer fins.  We learned quite a few lessons and were invited to the NARHAMS Triathlon and night launch on September 20th in Mt. Airy.  

Several of our kids brought their own rockets and we hope to go back again in October and field newer and more sophisticated rockets.  Even though we lost ‘Stilleto’ with its on board camera to rocket-eating trees, we still captured video from the ground and took many pictures.  Here are some images:

The video of the event is below. Thanks to Brett Thorson, Ted Markson and Patrick Thompson for wielding the cameras.

We are planning for a multi-engine, multi-stage and night flight at Mt. Airy on September 20th.  The pictures from there promise to be spectacular.

Girl Makers Visit Home Depot

Home Depot 1

RESTON — Last week the Reston Home Depot rolled out the red carpet and orange aprons for a “Girls Build” field trip of the GEMS-Girl Makers, a collaborative partnership between Nova Labs and Girls Excelling in Math and Science.

Home Depot Supervisor Angela Covington-Tyler organized the 2-hour program, which included hands-on demonstrations, an equipment tour, and a DIY wood build project for 10 excited girls.

“Who wants to try the drill?” she asked.

A stampede ensued.

Power Tools are Presented for Demonstration

home depot 4

Smiling customers stopped and watched.

“I had a lot of fun at the Home Depot,” said one 8 year old GEMS third grader. “I saw where all the wood was and where things are to make walls. A man showed us how to drill a hole in wood and we all got a turn. Another showed us how to wire a lamp!”


“Learning to use a hammer, drill and saw are life skills,” said Elizabeth Vandenburg, Founder of GEMS-Girl Makers of Nova Labs. “Girls are champing at the bit to get their hands on tools.”


The girls completed wood projects they were able to take home and show their friends.

“Reston Home Depot staff put so much thought and effort into teaching and showing the girls tools and how to use them safely,” said Nova Labs President Brian Jacoby. “And then the girls built things. How cool is that?”