Archives for the month of: May, 2016

(Slightly) improved cell sculpture- by reducing the vibration pattern for an additional 10 seconds at the end it resonates with the springs a bit, moving proteins back into the middle.  They don’t like to move in the left corner- could play around with weighting and tilt of the platform.. someday.

The end result, titled “Window into the cell”, exhibited at UWM’s Arts+Technology night, May 18th, 2016.


I was initially a bit disappointed as there weren’t enough proteins to really give a sense of molecular crowding, also, I did not anticipate the proteins would be so non-uniformly distributed, but the vibration is creating a sort of cymatic pattern so different areas have different energies (different areas are more attractive then others, due to shape)- the silver lining is that this is not entirely unlike in a cell.  I played around with using a lower vibration intensity at the end to try to jiggle them to the center again- 2 seconds was not enough, will have to play more with that.  Pete suggested warping the acrylic to  try and draw them towards the center.

Areas my proteins prefer:


Immediately before arts/tech night the 3D printed motor bracket broke off, so the motor was bouncing around inside like a bug for a little while- but hot glue fixed life.

..However, any disappointment I harbored quickly dissipated when people started rolling in for arts/tech night.  People seemed to like it, I was pleasantly surprised how many once they walked up actually pressed the button!


IMG_7039 (1).jpg

So the only piece of acrylic I had big enough was mirrored.  I thought about leaving it that way as the reflections from the lights create a neat glistening effect in the fresnel-proteins.  But it just needed to be backlit, was too dreary without a glow.  So I sanded off the mirror backing then sandblasted the acrylic.



The guts.  There are two barrel jacks for power and a potentiometer which controls motor intensity in the back of the case.  As soon as I started adding electronics it became apparent how difficult it would be to access them.  Different things are tethered to different parts.

After doing a trial where the acrylic was resting on foam padding, it occurred to me that the platform should be resting on springs so to have the best range of motion. So springs happenend.


^The motor is secured beneath the sandblasted acrylic which has a rim to prevent proteins from spilling.



Adventures in vibrating platform fabrication: so for my cytoplasm sculpture, I started with making a box and immediately completely hated it.  It needed to be atleast round, if not more organic shaped.  So I drew inspiration from my existing micrograph:



My original design called for three 1.75″ plywood parts stacked together, to be CNC routed.  I started (above) but needed a different bit.  Unfortunately the motor driver on the CNC burned out after that, so I tried to have it done at milwaukee makerspace- when there computer power supply burned out.  So the guy that was helping me suggested to laser cut it- their laser cutter is a few inches bigger (makes a huge difference).  Meanwhile I still have this thick plywood that is actually sort of pretty, with a weird ass shape carved in it.

So I made my design a bit less tall and we cut it out of 1/4″ baltic birch plywood, in 12 layers.


^Notch for motor

IMG_6963I really struggled with the design, I did not want to make the membrane outline too thick, it’s a membrane after all.  But I needed something to conceal both the arduino and the vibration motor, hence the ginormous membrane.   In the final version, the arduino creates a dark corner, but oh well.  There was also a lot of guess work in anticipating how much room would be needed for the thing to vibrate, as well.

More fluorescent things!


^Mitosis (DNA blue, microtubules red, kinetochores green)


^Neuromuscular junction





^Fruit fly eyes/brain




^No idea

Today I worked on soldering a protoshield for my cell sculpture.  Works!


Tonight I worked on the electronics for my cell sculpture.  The DC vibration motor is controlled by the adafruit motor shield (v2).  The motor will be triggered by a pushbutton to turn it on for 10-15 seconds, its’ overall speed controlled by a potentiometer.  The button will also cause a white LED strip (backlighting) to fade in, then fade out after the motor finishes.  Here’s what the wiring looks like (DC motor not pictured):


Here is the arduino code:

//For use with the Adafruit Motor Shield v2

#include <Wire.h>
#include <Adafruit_MotorShield.h>
#include “utility/Adafruit_MS_PWMServoDriver.h”

// Create the motor shield object with the default I2C address
Adafruit_MotorShield AFMS = Adafruit_MotorShield();
// Or, create it with a different I2C address (say for stacking)
// Adafruit_MotorShield AFMS = Adafruit_MotorShield(0x61);

// Select which ‘port’ M1, M2, M3 or M4. In this case, M2
Adafruit_DCMotor *myMotor = AFMS.getMotor(2);
// You can also make another motor on port M2
//Adafruit_DCMotor *myOtherMotor = AFMS.getMotor(2);

int potPin = A2;
int inPin = 1;
int val = 0;

#define DELAY 3
#define PIN 11

void setup() {

pinMode(PIN, OUTPUT);
pinMode(inPin, INPUT_PULLUP); // declare pushbutton as input

AFMS.begin(); // create with the default frequency 1.6KHz
//AFMS.begin(1000); // OR with a different frequency, say 1KHz

// Set the speed to start, from 0 (off) to 255 (max speed)

// turn on motor


void loop() {
uint8_t i;
val = digitalRead(inPin); // read input value
if (val == LOW) {

} else {
// fade in
for(int i=0; i<255; i++) {
analogWrite(PIN, i);

delay (5000);

// fade out
for(int i=0; i<255; i++) {
analogWrite(PIN, 255-i);



For my last project for Pete’s class I’ve been making a neopixel light painter, an arduino controlled LED strip for painting digital images over long exposures.  My background in photography made me naturally curious to try it and what better subject matter then flourescent microscopy! Many fluorescent microscopes work by rastering a tiny point of light across the sample, so dragging and LED strip to replay the image seems appropriate, somehow.  I would like to play around with scale, in how the images are juxtaposed with their surroundings.  Anyway, there is amazing documentation on how to build a light painter here:  Warning: neopixels are not the cheapest.

After some adventures in soldiering and troubleshooting loose connections I am proud to present my fluorescent cell painting stick!


The cell nucleus (often stained blue with a DNA stain called dapi) would make awesome moon(s) on the horizon, I think.  Vesicles often look like little glowing dots swimming around the cell- perfect for stars.

Here is the gorgeous user interface:unnamed


The images are stored on an SD card as 24 bit BMP, 144 pixels wide (=#LEDs).  Below is the SD card shield.


In action:


Above: drosophila larva trachea structures.  Stay turned for more fluorescent microscopy around the city!

In the end, it worked!  I was worried that “there is a reason chairs are not shaped like this”- we had our fingers crossed right up to the due date- but it bears weight, there’s a little wobble- but overall it is ‘ok’.  Comfy and matches the patio, too.




The thin plywood cutouts from last week were instrumental in testing out chair height and notch positions, however the whole structure was very flimsy, and it was hard to tell if it would work at all, much less where to reinforce it.  So we went ahead and cut it out of .7 inch common board after adding a design to be etched.  This cut was something of an adventure on the CNC router as the board warped from staining it first.  The etched design thus is deeper on the warped areas, as well as having trouble cutting through the wood deep enough.  We eventually got it, and it was clear that reinforcement was needed on the sides- so more cutting out of the remaining wood.    



^Adding reinforcements to the sides.