(IAP ’18 FELLOW) Claudia Chen ’20

Final Weeks @ STEM From Dance- February 10, 2018

Today marks one week back in Boston for me, and I figured it was time to do a final reflection/blog post about my month in New York.

During my third and fourth weeks at SFD, a lot of the focus shifted away from iterating and building and more towards creating a knowledge repository and preparing presentations. I presented the shirt that I created (I talked about this in my last blog post), and I also presented another project that I worked on involving live projections with dance movement.

Presenting how to create my force sensor shirt to SFD teachers

Presenting how to create my force sensor shirt to SFD teachers

I am tremendously thankful for the experience I had this IAP. I got to combine three topics that I love (engineering, education, and dance), and work on this awesome cross-disciplinary project. This IAP helped me realize that I don’t have to pursue each subject that I’m interested in separately; rather, there is space in this world for me to combine my interests.

This January also opened my eyes to how to manage my time for a longer term project. A month sounds like a lot of time, but when it came to the day to day work, the hours flew by. Allotting the right amount of time to plan, build, iterate, and document was a trial and error process. I didn’t want to spend too much time brainstorming, but I didn’t want to have a poor project because I didn’t spend enough time planning. I wanted to spend enough time iterating and building, but I also had to have adequate time to document my work so that future SFD instructors could use it. Striking a balance in my design process certainly was a challenge, but I grew as a student and engineer working within these time constraints.

As for the future, this fellowship has inspired me to continue my pursuits in STEM education. I am working at the Edgerton Center this upcoming semester working on developing maker projects for middle and high school students in subjects that are not traditionally taught in a “maker” style.  I enjoyed what I was doing so much that I knew I didn’t want to stop once I returned to campus, and I am excited to see what my future endeavors related to STEM outreach will entail.

Week 2 @ STEM From Dance- January 22, 2018

It’s hard for me to believe that my time in New York is already halfway over! My first two weeks here have been pretty eventful, yet I still feel that there are so many things I haven’t gotten to explore yet. I’ve come to realize that this is just how it is in New York City; no matter how many sights you see, there will always be more to do.

There are always so many exciting events being advertised all around the city.

The hustle and bustle of the city

Last week, I attended a performance by some current SFD students. The students danced in shirts with programmable lights on them, and they each got to program their lights to go along with the music they were dancing to. Here’s a video of another set of students who did the same project, for context.

Being able to watch SFD students perform for the first time in person gave me a lens to the projects  I’m working on that I really needed. Oftentimes when I start working on something longer term, I get lost in the deliverables and day-to-day goals. Sometimes, I keep my head down for too long and  forget the overall view and context; watching the students dance was a wonderful way to keep me inspired and motivated through the week.

STEM From Dance students performing a routine last Wednesday.

STEM From Dance students performing a routine last Wednesday.

In terms of my project progress, I completed a looks-like and works-like prototype of a shirt to be worn while dancing. This is different than the glove idea I initially had, but it feels more practical and has more creative uses in dance choreography than a glove. The prototype has two soft force sensors placed in different locations, and when pressure is applied to these force patches, an LED strip lights up in various patterns, and percussion notes are played from the computer using the MIDI technology I talked about in my last blog post. This idea might sound abstract, so here is a short video demo.

I used a material called velostat to create the force sensor patches. The resistance of velostat changes based off of how it is bent and how much pressure is being applied to it, and because it is a soft material, it can easily and discretely be sewn into plain black shirts. To use the velostat as a sensor, I attached conductive thread to both the front and the back of the velostat before sewing it down. Conductive thread functions the same way as regular wire in terms of circuitry, so it can be connected to a microcontroller to read the changing values from the velostat. But, unlike wire, conductive thread has the massive benefit of being soft and very flexible, making it ideal to be used in a dance costume!

One thing I need to start thinking about is how one would go about teaching how to make this costume to someone with no computing background. It would be really easy to just give the students an exact example to follow, but that would not truly teach programming fundamentals or foster any critical thinking skills. But, at the same time, programming (and especially programming for microcontrollers/hardware right of the bat) has quite a large learning curve, so if the project is introduced in too abstract of a manner, students may find in unengaging. Finding a happy medium between these two extremes will be crucial to the success of my project in practice.

This is all I have to say for now. Check back later next week for more updates on my project!

Week 1 @ STEM From Dance- January 10, 2018

This week is my first week working at STEM From Dance! I’m working in Manhattan, NY for the month of January, and although I’ve only been at work for a few days, I’m already really enjoying what I’m doing. I’ve also had a great time exploring New York City; the exciting nature of the city outweighs the cold weather here.

Me with two of my roommates, Stephanie and Joe, awestruck by all of the billboards in Time Square

Me with two of my roommates, Stephanie and Joe, awestruck by all of the billboards in Time Square

For those unfamiliar, STEM From Dance is an organization that introduces minority female students to science and engineering topics through dance. In practice, STEM From Dance operates as an outreach program in the New York City area that involves both dance workshops and STEM project workshops. The projects the students work on enhance their dance choreography, and the students get to showcase their newfound dance and computing skills at a final performance/showcase. Current projects that STEM From Dance students work on range from programming a background projection that goes along with their choreography to creating a costume with LEDs that they program to light up at specific times.

This month, I’m working on exploring and creating prototypes for new projects that future STEM From Dance students can work on. Because my project is very open ended, one challenge I see is trying to figure out explicitly what I want my prototype to achieve. My goal is to, at the end of the month, have a working project that future students will use.

After doing some brainstorming earlier this week, I decided that using physical touch as a trigger for auditory and/or visual changes on stage could be a new and engaging way to enhance stage performance. From this, I came up with an idea to use pressure as a trigger for playing some sort of sound.

I envision this on stage perhaps in the form factor of a glove, where if one dancer uses their hand to press down on their body, another dancer, or even the stage floor, then a sound effect is added to the music that is being danced to. More technically, I’ve started prototyping this by using a force-sensitive resistor (FSR) connected to a Bluetooth enabled microcontroller. Because of the material and geometry of the FSR, its resistance decreases as more pressure is applied. The voltage on the analog pin of the microcontroller then also changes, and I’m able to use this data to program certain events. Because the microcontroller is Bluetooth enabled, I can use it to transmit data to my computer; more specifically, I use the microcontroller to transmit Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data to my laptop’s GarageBand app to play different sound effects.

Here’s a video of a very early stage prototype of this concept that I made on this morning. Right now the data that I’m transmitting to GarageBand is which specific notes should be played, and they are played when I apply pressure on the FSR.


One important detail I need to think about more is how much these musical gloves would actually enhance a dance performance. I find the idea of a human orchestra through gloves interesting, but so far corresponding piano notes would not really enhance a performance too much. So, I need to keep looking into how sound can be manipulated through MIDI data.

Outside of work, I’ve gotten the chance to explore the city a bit. I went to Brooklyn yesterday, which was a nice change of pace from Manhattan. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about living in New York this week is how to use the subway system. I’ve learned that most of the time, if I simply ~look up~ (instead of at my phone trying to figure out Google Maps), it is extremely clear which train I should get on.

An aesthetically pleasing photo which showcases how clearly labeled the subway station is

An aesthetically pleasing photo which showcases how clearly labeled the subway station is

I think this is all I have to say for now. Thank you for reading this far! Stay tuned for more updates coming next week.

Update: Read my blog post from week 2 here

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