Wanna have the best ever science/engineering project ? Read on!
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Step 1: Start It Right
Start your project on DAY ONE, do not leave till last minute. My daughter started on day one with her award winning science project, the ‘Personal Particle Accelerator’ (now a DIY project on Kickstarter!), the example used in this general purpose Instructable.
Step 2: Choose Crazy
Choose something more challenging than people normally do... complete this sentence: "If I was crazy I would do a (insert your crazy wonderful idea)". Explain what you're doing to the teacher, and ask for extra time upfront to achieve something "really worthwhile that we can all be proud of".
Step 3: High Level Design
Think strategically about your design. Sketch out your design, and get a lot of feedback on it before you proceed, especially from an engineer or scientist.
Step 4: Get Your Sensors Right
Getting sensors right is critical - if the sensing doesn’t work, any downstream electronics, software, actuators cannot work, so look for proven sensing methods to reliably detect/measure what's needed. Microswitches or IR photo-interruptors work well for detecting mechanical objects/movement. Be aware that recognising objects from a video feed is complex and not perfectly reliable, so if there’s a way to mechanically detect, that’s better.
Photo shows infra red LED and infra red photo transistor to detect the steel ball between them. Note 3d printed housing to hold LED and transistor steady, and shield from ambient light
Step 5: Interface Your Sensors With Electronics
Convert your sensor values to a micro-controller input so your project benefits from the flexibility advantages of software. Typically sensors doesn’t directly plug into a micro-controller, so either buy a sensing module which advertises itself as “Arduino compatible”, or develop interface electronics to make your sensor’s output compatible with the microcontroller input.
Be aware that electronics is a complex/high risk area. Unless you're already an electronics expert, think through whether you're prepared to buy existing modules (may be expensive or not allowed in your project), whether you can learn enough in time, and whether you have access to expert assistance. Test circuits early on an electronics breadboard, then proceed to veroboard to boost reliability. If you have time, designing your own printed circuit board is the ultimate.
Step 6: Get Your Arduino
Choose your microcontroller - the Arduino Uno is recommended as a simple and affordable micro-controller.
SparkFun Electronics from Boulder, USA - Arduino Uno - R3
CC BY 2.0File:Arduino Uno - R3.jpgCreated: 21 January 2013
Step 7: Use CAD to Design Parts for 3d Printing and 2d Laser Cutting
You'll need custom mechanical parts, so learn some 3D design software (CAD) which enables 3d printing. The best one is Fusion 360, but Sketchup or Tinkercad are possibilities too. All three choices have free versions. Strongly consider laser cutting, which is excellent at creating customised 2d panels from a material (eg. acrylic). If you don’t have access to these machines, get assistance from your local Maker space.
Step 8: Ask for Help... the Right Way!
As you continue through your project build, continue getting free advice from engineers or scientists. I can't stress enough how important this is. You'll save time, money and boost your chances of success. If you don't know the right person personally, ask on an online forum: explain clearly what you want to do, what you've already tried, and what your current problem is. B grateful and respectful.... never start your post with 'urgent, plz help'
Step 9: Take Photos and Document
Take photos along the way, so that when you achieve an amazing result, you can show all the work you did to get there. Also makes it easier to share with others.
Step 10: Bathe in Glory
Show the world! If you work out how to efficiently make multiple copies of your project, you can even run a Kickstarter campaign so everyone can join the fun. Our Kickstarter campaign is https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/awesometech1/personal-particle-accelerator-advanced-stem-kit