Recently I had the great pleasure of meeting several people who are energizers and organizers of the NoVA Mini Maker Faire coming to Reston on March 15.
The first question many of you may have is likely: What is a Mini Maker Faire? I’ve heard it best explained as a bringing together of “an amazing collection of tech enthusiasts, engineers, woodworkers, artists,…craftspeople” and would-be inventors to show and tell what they are making. It has a bit of science fair feel, but with much, much more. In Reston and Northern Virginia, it is a “Mini” maker faire because the maker movement is just getting started here compared to other parts of the country and the world. Last year was the first such faire in NoVA with scores of makers attracting 4,000 participants. One in California last year featured 900 makers and 120,000 viewers. One in New York drew around 90,000. Events in Italy, France, and England draw many thousands. Thus, we are still “Mini.”
Makers are diverse and vary from the very young to seniors. Some are elementary school students like those who participated in a recent GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) take-apart session at Nova Labs “Makerspace” at Isaac Newton Square. A take-apart session is like an informal primer for makers. The organizers invite youngsters to come and disassemble all manner of appliances and gadgets, using simple tools and their hands. I saw young girls and boys taking apart coffeemakers, TVs, stereo equipment, computers, and such with enthusiasm and a gleam in their eyes. Next they’ll learn how to make simple things and go from there. Having a “makerspace” with space, resources and mentorship fosters empowerment of all who want to discover or rediscover the joy of making things.
In another room of Nova Labs that morning, I found a more advanced maker group—a group of 15 males ranging in age from middle or high school to my own geezer end of the spectrum. They were deeply involved in making drones—from modest helicopter types you could put in a shoebox to ones with maybe a 3-foot wingspan. The take-apart group and the other makers I’d seen seemed to have about as many girls as boys. I was told that indeed there are female drone makers, but generally the guys still far outnumber them. I am betting not for long!
The maker movement is growing fast, attracting makers and followers all over the U.S. and indeed the world. Also, a new industry is growing up to manufacture the raw materials, parts, and tools for the maker population. They already produce arduinos-single board microcontrollers which are basic for everything from small flashing light panels to robots, and the stuff you would need to get started making whatever you can imagine. You might look at blog.makezine.com for news and project ideas, or google Maker Shed to see what starter kits and books are available. Best of all, make sure you attend the NoVA Mini Maker Faire at South Lakes High and Langston Hughes Middle School, on Sunday, March 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Go to http//makerfairenova.com for all the information.