Neal Ekengren is a Maker from Longwood, FL, where he works for Thompson Reuters creating Real Estate Valuation software. He is a recognized Master Gardener, historical miniatures gamer, and world traveler. But probably, he says, his longest running hobby interests have been chemistry and electronics.
The old Radio Shack electronic kits and Chemistry sets from the 1960′s were his favorite boyhood “toys”, in a time when “There were no integrated circuits or microcontrollers and a single transistor was a big deal. “
He survived the perils of these toys to graduate from the University of Kansas with degrees in Biochemistry and Petroleum Engineering.
Neal was introduced to the Maker world by a Wired magazine article on the Arduino. His indulgent wife got him one for Christmas. Neal thought he’d just play around with the thing, “learn about these fancy new toys, and light up a few LED’s. “
Then, he says, ” the Maker bug hit. “
He envisioned a single multi-project combining many of his interests. It would use an Arduino with chemistry, software development, and woodworking. MEOWSER was born.
MEOWSER is a (M)ineral (E)lement Br(owser), and consists of a cabinet full of rocks and mineral samples, with cabinet LED lighting is controlled using an Arduino microcontroller driven by a Laptop computer periodic table.
Why? Well, because Neal had been viewing all the great online chemistry periodic tables that were showing up (because who doesn’t love to do that?) , as well as the great element and mineral collections online that were linked to periodic tables. (So what do you look at online?)
And he realized he could use the same mouse-over interfaces to drive lighting in a wood cabinet full of minerals. (What do you do with your wood cabinet full of minerals?) He only wanted very specific APEX minerals (defined by Neal as, “A mineral that contains the highest concentration (by weight) of a particular element that is readily obtainable from primary ore samples in a quantity that can be viewed with the naked eye.”) How hard could that be? he wondered.
“Well, you don’t know what you don’t know,” says Neal.
Two years later he has finally completed his MEOWSER. Among the challenges he faced:
- LED selection took several months of orders from China and testing in various cabinet configurations. High power wide field LEDs were needed.
- Three versions of wooden cabinet configuration were constructed and discarded to arrive at the final “simple” repeatable version. A woodworking Router had to be broken in.
- Transistor Array and Shift Register integrated circuits were part of the discovery process after learning about Arduino power and pin limitations.
- Different cabling schemes were tested to allow modularization of the cabinets.
- The APEX mineral for each element had to be selected and ordered from China. Investigation and delivery took more time than expected.
- Software development issues were encountered with the serial communications between the computer and Arduino. Several versions of Arduino code were developed until the final “simple” version was created.
You can see the MEOWSER in action in the video, and get a first hand look at it at Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire 2013.
We think Neal ROCKS!