Introduction: Student Spotlight: Roberto Groza

About: Matthew was previously a STEAM integrator with a private K-8 school. He loves taking things apart to see how they work, and will sometimes put those things back together. Much of his time is spent working with…

Welcome to another Author Spotlight Interview!

The Instructables community is full of amazing and talented people. Author interviews are a way to spotlight individual Instructables authors, highlight their projects, and get to know them a little better and see what makes them tick.

For this Author Spotlight Interview, I had the opportunity to chat with Roberto Groza, a high school senior currently interested in pursuing computer science and aerospace engineering. Roberto has taken advantage of classes such as Advanced Innovation Engineering Design, to help propel himself towards this goal.

Step 1: I Became Interested and Researched a Lot About Hydroponics and Aquaponics.

When did you first start making things? What kinds of things were you interested in making and doing when you were younger?

When I was in middle school, I was interested in renewable energy sources. One of my first major projects was using my Lego EV3 board to create a solar panel sun tracker (Heliostat). The positioning data of the sun was calculated in a separate Excel spreadsheet and then imported to the EV3 to update the orientation of the solar panel every 5 minutes. The tracking mode accumulated about 20% more energy throughout the entire day compared to leaving the panel at a fixed orientation.
From learning mostly about biology in middle school, I also became interested and researched a lot about hydroponics and aquaponics. I created an aquaponics closed-loop system using my home aquarium. I built a container with a fill tube connected to my aquarium pump, and a bell siphon to periodically oscillate the water level in the container. This creates the close-loop system between the plants and the fish, establishing a symbiotic relationship. I planted bean seedlings in grow-stone (porous crushed-glass stones), and these beans grew almost twice as fast as the conventionally grown beans.

Step 2: I Research on Sites Like Instructables.

When did you first discover Instructables and what inspired you to post your first project?

When browsing online for possible project ideas, I came across Instructables and found it to be extremely helpful for getting inspiration for what I wanted to make. I really liked the community that Instructables has created and wanted to post my own project to become a maker on the platform. I felt that the Sand Table project that I was working on would be perfect to make an Instructables for when I finished it.

What is your process when approaching a new project?

I first sketch-out a design that I have in mind, and then I research on sites like Instructables for what has already been done in the past to get more ideas. After completing a small 3D-printed prototype of the Sand Table with some other students, I was inspired by the Zen Garden CNC End Table on Instructables and the tables made by the Sisyphus company. I decided to start my own version that would be constructed out of milled and stained pieces of wood with a glass top so that it looked like a coffee table.

Step 3: Like Any Other Skill, Practicing Is the Most Effective Way to Learn Quickly.

You seem to utilize Fusion 360 when approaching new projects. Can you tell me about your experience with it, and any tips you might offer other students who may be just starting out with the software?

Getting started in Fusion 360 is as easy as getting your hands dirty in experimenting with its features. Like any other skill, practicing is the most effective way to learn quickly. The way that I learned to work in Fusion was by setting a goal for a project that I wanted to work on, and then doing as much as I could while researching for methods of accomplishing the steps of creating my 3D model.
I learned pretty soon that parametric modeling, where you can have a single parameter change multiple dimensions in a model, is the most effective way of making a robust model that can be easily modified afterwards. I always keep this in mind when creating new models, so that I can streamline the work later when I am adjusting it. Parametric modeling can also be useful for creating a “blueprint” of an object that can be replicated and modified.
I am heavily relying on parametric modeling for my ongoing project of creating a controllable prosthetic hand. When creating the 3D model of the hand’s fingers, I first modeled a single finger that had parameters for the dimensions of each section of the finger. I then was able to replicate this design and change the parameters for the rest of the fingers.
Refining the functionality of a model sometimes takes many attempts and versions. One of the first modeling projects that I worked on was a whiteboard marker holder for my school’s boards. I ended up making several different versions of the marker holder that had unique mounting mechanisms to the board in order to find the most optimal design.

Step 4: From My Experience, It Is Very Difficult to Get a Perfectly Functional Model on the First Try.

When we spoke you mentioned the benefits of rapid prototyping. I was hoping you could expand upon that thought and how someone can best utilize that process?

From my experience, it is very difficult to get a perfectly functional model on the first try, so having a way to rapidly prototype and try different designs is the best way of getting a near-perfect final product. 3D printing, laser cutting, and CNC machining all enable rapid prototyping to be possible. This allows people to test their design ideas and create new refined versions quickly compared to manufacturing it by hand.

You mentioned you were planning to leave the sand table at your school as a learning experience. Could you elaborate on why you feel this is important to students that will be coming along after you?

The Sand Table was a project that I started with a group of students in school and continued working on in my own time. I would like it if the project could continue to exist in the school to show other students what is possible. I hope that I can have students work on creating new sand drawings or develop new features with their programming skills in the effort to continue improving the project.

Step 5: This Is Why I Now Keep a Small Stash of Coin-cell Batteries!

The most indispensable tool at your disposal is...?

Digital calipers are one of my most useful tools for taking precise measurements to create accurate models. I like being precise with my measurements to create near perfect models. Before going to Fusion to start creating a model, I try to measure all of the necessary dimensions and sketch a rough drawing of the model with these measurements. When the battery from my caliper once ran out of juice, it seemed pretty awkward for me to eye-ball the measurements from the printed lines on the caliper. This is why I now keep a small stash of coin-cell batteries!
I think also having a 3D printer, even if it has a small footprint, is extremely useful for manufacturing custom designs. These small 3D-printed parts can always be combined with other materials to build larger projects.

Step 6: Take Plenty of Photos of the Designing and Building Process Along the Way!

How has Instructables impacted you as a student and supported projects you've created in school?

Instructables has given me the ability to showcase my projects and become part of an active community of makers who all have a passion for making things. I am able to share my projects with the world and also have a place on the internet to document the things that I create.

If you could give any advice to someone new to using Instructables in the classroom, what would it be?

Take plenty of photos of the designing and building process along the way! The photos themselves can tell the story of how your project evolved, so having plenty will make the documentation process much smoother. Another way to make documentation smoother, is to take note what was accomplished for the project on each day, so that you create a progress timeline of necessary tasks for the project. This can then be modified into becoming the steps of your project guide for the Instructables post.