Whether working with local families, companies, universities, or schools, our focus is finding interesting, flexible contexts to prototype novel tools & materials supporting creative, scientific inquiry. Got a lead? Drop us a line!
Selected Projects & Programs
Over the past year we’ve been working with the City of Somerville—along with local families, businesses, and institutions—to develop a proposal for a new high school in Somerville, an Innovation School extending the themes behind sprout’s work: project-based learning, computational thinking, and a deep integration with the community. Our prospectus was unanimously approved in the summer of 2012, and we’re now in the midst of developing the more detailed Innovation Plan for submission early 2013.
Inspired by the community events of Great Small Works, this dinner theater series brings people together around food, music, & performance united by a monthly theme. Seeking to blur the line between art and academia, the series asks academics to approach their lectures as performance and puppeteers to cast their theater as pedagogy. Each month, we bring folks together around a program of presentations & performances which at their best help us understand a piece of everyday life from a new perspective.
Inspired by works like Braitenberg’s Vehicles and Schrödinger’s What is Life?, sprout’s Signs of Life, asks participants to explore what it means for something to be “alive.” We do this by prototyping projects which are alive (in one way or another)—whether that’s robots responsive to feedback or simulations incorporating evolutionary computation. Participants work with media ranging from Mindstorms and Scratch to arts & crafts supplies to Processing and Arduino to bring their creations to life.
Turtle Geometry is one of sprout’s longest-running program series. Inspired by Abelson & DiSessa’s classic, Turtle Geometry, the various incarnations of this seminar have explored—among other things—how computation can unlock simulation, differential geometry, topology, and art. Participants range from six-year old children to math educators to college students to practicing artists & engineers. These groups work in environments like Scratch, Processing, and NodeBox.
Instrument design is an astounding mix of art, craft & science—despite how much we know, we don’t know much about why instruments sound the way they do. Flutes & Waves is a workshop series aiming to get our hands dirty with how sound works. With a professional flute maker from the Haynes Flute Company and a local mechanical engineer, participants make their own flutes and riff on their form, exploring how flutes’ design controls their acoustics, and the nature of timbre and harmonics.
Parading, sculpture, and spectacle are among the oldest of community-driven collaborations and often involve impressive feats of design, engineering, and logistics. Parade Floats! is a program run in partnership with the Eliot School hoping to capture a bit of that history and bring it to Boston area youth. In it, participants combine kinetic sculpture & float design over eight weeks, culminating in a sidewalk spectacle and parade through Jamaica Plain’s downtown.
Ecomodding Your Home is a two month seminar focused on identifying and implementing simple strategies to reduce electricity consumption. Participants use a custom power strip developed at sprout which allows you to meter, monitor, and control electricity usage, bringing computation & intelligence to everyday appliances—whether automatically turning off your TV’s standby mode while you’re at work or dimming your lamp when its sunny outside.
“Know thyself.” The motto of the Quantified Self is ‘self-knowledge through numbers.’ Nagle organizes the Boston chapter of the Quantified Self (QS) Meetup: a regular show-and-tell for people who conducting personal investigations into their bodies, minds, and selves. Exploring topics ranging from the science of sleep to meditation’s effects on the brain, participants come together about once a month for a combination of talks, movie screenings, demos, and discussion with interested peers.
Inspired by long traditions of recreational mathematics epitomized by folks like Martin Gardner, Playing Math! digs into the real mathematics found in games & puzzles. We’ve run independently in Somerville and Cambridge, with homeschooling co-ops, and as part of the Somerville’s afterschool program. No matter where we’re working though, the focus is on developing our own mathematical intuitions—for everything from graph theory to topology—by engaging the mathematics head-on and hands-on.
Bring Your Grandma to Math Day (BYG2MD)—hosted annually with the MIT Museum—explores the playful mathematics behind board games, origami, geometric puzzles, and more. It’s a shame when parents & grandparents “can’t help [their kids] with the homework anymore.” BYG2MD’s focus is on bringing multiple generations, families, & neighborhoods together to explore mathematics as mathematicians practice it: playfully, through games, puzzles, & creative projects.
More than four dozen volunteers came together over a couple months to design & construct the streetbeest, a twelve-foot tall, twenty-foot wide walking sculpture inspired by the work of Dutch artist & engineer Theo Jansen. This project was an experiment in collaboration, community-driven design, and an exploration of two, storied art forms: mechanical linkages & parades. The work culminated in a mile long march from Davis to Harvard Square as part of the 2010 HONK! Parade.
Moving from fluid dynamics to mechanical engineering to electrical engineering and back again, Engineering the Wind is a program run independently at sprout and in partnership with MIT & Tufts. Led by two, professional wind engineers, participants work in small groups to design, build, test, and characterize each subsystem. The group builds a personal-scale (on the order of kilowatts) wind turbine, splitting time between the fundamental physics of wind turbines & shop time building the thing.
In a twelve-week seminar run independently at sprout’s studios, Nervous System’s Jesse Louis-Rosenberg brought his deep interest in nature & simulation to bear on this exploration of computational design. Participants work to understand the aesthetic and scientific dimensions of natural forms—from leaf venation to the growth of coral—by creating physical & virtual objects embodying these concepts.
Unlocking Locks is a nine week seminar coordinated by Schuyler Towne—a two-time American lock picking champion. The seminar focuses on understanding the design & manufacture of locks—and how this understanding leads to understanding of the basics of high security attacks, forensic locksmithing, and strategies for compromising them. Participants of all ages and backgrounds are welcome; all necessary supplies are provided.
Since sprout began, we’ve been compelled by everyday laboratories which aren’t really seen as laboratories. Gardens are one. Kitchens are another. The Science of Sourdough is a series of drop-in workshops aimed at interweaving a love of cooking and an excitement about the chemistry in their kitchen, exploring the hows and whys of the basic processes and heuristics of baking. No experience (in baking or chemistry) required.
Overthinking Board Games brings a computational twist to a classic medium. By modeling board games and the optimal strategies for playing them, participants look to better understand the psychological, strategic, and mathematical principles underlying successful gameplay. We play games, analyse their mechanics, and document successful strategies all while exploring the algorithms & data structures useful for modeling gameplay.
How do you get from Maxwell’s equations to the design of a functioning, magnetic machine? Participants in this program explore the physics & engineering behind motor & generator design and optimize the design of a prototype turbine being built by a local energy company in this weekly seminar. Comfort with multivariable and vector calculus and basic electricity & magnetism is required for participation in Magnetic Machines.