During the summer my and Eric Corwin‘s weekly group meetings (our groups meet together) depart from our usual format of presentations of our own research and brief summaries of journal articles to instead tackle some broader topic. Last year, for example, we covered a good chunk of Introduction to Modeling for Biosciences by Barnes and Chu, an excellent book on constructing computational models, with neat examples of agent-based simulations of evolutionary dynamics, etc. (Someday, I intend to write a book on modeling in science that’s all about the biomechanics of striking poses on a catwalk.)
This summer’s first activity is to learn about microcontrollers . Nowadays, there are amazingly cheap, powerful little computers with analog-to-digital converters, LEDs, etc. that can be easily programmed. Arduinos are the most well known of these. Our group bought the even cheaper (less than $5 !) Texas Instruments “launchpad” development kit for the MSP430 microcontroller. Here, K. figures out how to turn a program that blinks a green LED into one that alternately blinks red and green LEDs:
With Eric’s guidance (since I know nothing), we’ve all started to explore these. The real challenge is to create something that’s actually useful for the lab! Not, for example, an LED coffee table:
We came up with a few ideas, mostly having to do with reading or triggering various pieces of lab equipment. Separately, a while ago, one of my students who knows a lot about these things made a neat Arduino-based optical chopper. We’ll see what happens!