Riverview Column

Work in Progress

Riverview, CAN  2020

High school students at Riverview High School (Riverview, New Brunswick) led by Ian Fogarty are working with LASG members Rob Gorbet, Matt Gorbet and Philip Beesley for the 2020-2021 school term to explore the fabrication and construction of experimental interactive prototypes that could be used within new kinds of smart buildings and furniture. The group is designing and fabricating a series of digitally fabricated lightweight basket-like column forms, supporting active electronics and microprocessors controlling vibrating mechanisms and lights. Custom software configured by the students is being used to control the responsive behaviours within these columns. 

This cross-country Tech-Art collaboration challenges both students and a school system to rethink the labels they put on themselves, as they explore the transdisciplinary connections between art, coding, psychology, sociology, and electronics. Can students build a professional-quality art installation that will reside outside the RHS theatre, able to respond to stimulus from observers? Can this art installation draw people from different social groups together and encourage discussions about art and education? Can this art installation serve as an example of transformed, integrative education that helps open doors for high-school level students to directly explore and learn about complex innovative technology?

Learning Through Design by Ian Fogarty

Progress Logs — Ian Fogarty


Mar 17, 2021



Maddi and Winter were F2F (face to face), and so they continued to build on Mia’s progress.

They were putting on the bottom plate, they pushed down a bit and the 20 lbs test fishing line broke!! The whole thing came down. We only had a couple of pieces break. Had this happened with the compression jaws, the pieces would probably have shattered.


Rob had a good idea to come up with a name other than the column or the chandelier. Mia piped in right away and said “Emotion Enlightenment” working on the word play with physical enlightenment of the space but also the enlightenment of inner emotion, such as what happens during an anxiety attack.

They also looked at the hourglass idea of the new shape. There was some wondering about Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology as well as questions about emotion and Freud. Words like Oyzys, Hedon, Kharites, ID, Ego, Pelios (I like the sound of Pelios, but wonder of its appropriateness).

Building on the god of Emotion, “In Hindu mythology it may be Moon, who controls the emotions and feelings with its waning and waxing or Kaam, who arouses desires in one’s heart or Saraswati, who is the Goddess of knowledge, wisdom and art, which can help in refinement of feelings and emotions.”


Mar 12, 2021


Too many chefs in the kitchen lead to some misplaced chevrons and a mis-shapen column. 

It was fun peeling off masking. Check out Jordan’s face. Some students wanted to back up, remove layers and “make it correctly”, meaning “as defined in the blue print”. Others wondered about using this as an opportunity to rethink things. Perhaps we should leverage this beautiful mistake and do it deliberately for design. 


We decided to rebuild from scratch and use our mistaken discovery purposefully to create a new shape. Maddie made some sketches shown in the previous entries.

Mia decided to take an inventory of the pieces we had and design something new. She placed the layer plan on the white board. Then she was able to get the first 16 rows done.

Maddie and Winter came in over lunch to complete it. They had a hard time putting on the bottom plate without some of the jaws releasing, so Winter pushed down on it a bit and the 20 pound fishing line broke. OH NO! It was ALMOST caught on video. Time to redo it…again. 


Mar 10, 2021


Over Spring break, Jordan ordered one of the PIs with a camera designed to read humans. He took a few minutes to talk to Rob about what he has done so far. There are two processes he is taking. One where there is a pre-learned library of recognitions, and another where it is smart but “unlearned” at the moment. Jordan is able to get a confidence level about thumbs up or thumbs down.

He is going to try some things like, how far/close do you have to be? How dark can it be? and then can you go from thumbs up and down to smiling/frowning?

This is cool and it could have some serious implications for our column, but also for LASG sculptures in the future. I wonder if Jordan will end up in Waterloo and wonder if this will have legs. Not to put too much pressure on a young kid, but I wonder if 5 years from now, Jordan will be involved at the studio doing something cool? This would be a nice proof of concept for tertiary schools and other organizations getting involved with public schools. This is a step towards having the outside community involved in an un-intrusive way to help personalize kids’ learning. 


Feb 27, 2021


We need to begin thinking about assembling the SAIs. Since the SAI’s produce 5V and our LEDs are only 3.2 V, we will need to create current limiting protection resistors. There is a really cool way to make them by wrapping the resistor around one leg of the LED, soldering both ends of the resistor onto one leg of the LED, and then snipping the LED leg. But what is the size of the required Resistor? This is a good excuse to talk about Ohm’s and Kirchoff’s Laws with a voltage divider. The students have done Ohm’s law, but that was 2 years ago in grade 10 and we won’t be looking at it until May of Physics 12.

Rob went through the Voltage divider and how you might use it to send a signal to a microcontroller. There is a misunderstanding there. In the voltage divider, there are two resistors in series, and in our case a variable resistor for one of them. They wondered why the static resistor is necessary at all. Why can’t the variable resistor be sufficient on its own? I believe the answer is that, if there is a variable resistor on its own, the CURRENT will fluctuate but the voltage will not. The microcontroller measures VOLTAGE for a signal not current. So by adding the second static resistor, we can fluctuate the VOLTAGE which is microcontroller ready.


Feb 26, 2021


The vinegar battery did not do so well after 24 hours. There is inconsistent voltage between the cells so we wonder about things like a consistent length of wire, consistent exposure, consistent connection between the wire and the nails.


Feb 25, 2021


Ella revisited the vinegar battery from last semester. She had enough cells to get into the 8-12 V range without load to light an LED for 5 days.

We would have liked to have a battery that lasted much longer. I do not want to refill the chemicals every week. We wonder if we can drop the voltage and increase the volume to extend the lifetime. However, it still has to have enough ummppff to trigger the SAI. I do not know the minimum threshold for the SAI or a Zero Pi to register as “high” or “low”.

Rather than using the ice cube trays, she used 500 mL Florence flasks. Instead of the concentrated vinegar, she used regular vinegar and also diluted some vinegar. Visibly, we can see black flakes and hydrogen bubbles were abundant. We were able to measure some voltage around 300 mV and very low current, around 30 mA using 10% household vinegar. We wanted a larger surface area, so she used a 7 inch spike for the zinc electrode and lots of exposed stranded wire for the copper. We did not apply any load, just the ammeter and voltmeter.

We took readings every hour and let it go. It is still in progress. But after 1 day, the voltage has dropped significantly. I think we need to have some kind of load in there. A capacitor would be a good idea because that will eventually be the trigger in the future, but how large?? That would depend on the minimum threshold voltage for an SAI.  


Feb 21, 2021


Today was exciting! We received 5 kits with piZero and sensors!!!

Just in time to talk about pruning the options for a trigger. We talked about the idea that each LED had a constant colour, that we could have 20 SAI’s with 2 LEDs each. We can have a few different strings and the string lengths could be different. Does that mean one string is Angry and another string is Sad? There was also a discussion around using colour blown glass bulbs instead of colour LEDs. I was hoping to use those coloured bulbs for a vinegar battery that would trigger a strand. 

Can one sensor trigger a string of lights and another sensor determine the pace. For instance, it will be triggered by proximity, but the pace would be determined by volume in the room?

What if the chandelier was attention seeking? Will it throw a temper tantrum if people ignore it? What if the chandelier shook a bit after it detected a random number of people walking by but not stopping to observe. Maybe it would shake on the 3 people who walk by, or maybe it is the 10th and then the 2nd? Could we use the buzzer to make a soft noise and a little bit of shake? This is around the 28 min mark. 

How would we know if people are walking by it and ignoring it? as compared to walking by, stopping and then walking away? (min 35 to 38) We talked a bit about how we might use the ultrasonic sensor (or lidar) to know if people were standing and watching or if they were just walking by. 


Feb 16, 2021


These are not all the ideas. Here is the recorded video. 



Feb 6, 2021


We talked a bit about brainstorming and being creative followed by pruning. I talked about the idea of not having any bounds for a little while. We talked about the idea of DIFFUSE THINKING (which I picked up at the IEEE conference at Princeton with Rob and Lucinda). There is a reason that good ideas come to you when you are preoccupied with automatic tasks like sipping coffee, taking a shower or walking the dog…if you don’t contaminate it with playing a game on your phone or perhaps listening to music. You need to just BE with an idea for a while and it needs to percolate. Since we are not under a strict deadline at the moment, we had some time to ponder. So before we prune, spend this week pondering other trigger behaviors. Rob suggested that students produce simple sketches, maybe comic book style that describes the sequence of events for the trigger. A person walks along, they arrive here and then the light does a thing. I challenged them with some homework. We will see. I will make a collaborative space on our Onenote inside teams. Then I can send it to LASG later.


Jan 22, 2021


Today, Matt rearranged his schedule to be with us. So far, students have thought about what messages different lights give, graphed emotions and thought about how to convey those emotions in lights. They have worked on the SAI Profile to turn lights on and off and learned how one SAI can trigger another thinking about the difference between automated/mechanical and natural/alive. Just because individual lights might convey an emotion, we need to worry about how they interact with each other so that they behave as one organism, similar to individual shorebirds acting like a single living being, or at least appear to. 

The primary structure of amino acids is just a string of amino acids. While the individual amino acids dictate the secondary folding into helices and sheets which then form into globular proteins, it is only when they form the caves of the tertiary structure that it has the active sites and the biological functionality. 

In our lights, perhaps we are starting on the primary structure, but we also need to start considering how they will be arranged in physical space. The individual lights might turn on and off, but in physical space does one turn on at the top and then directly below so that it flows from top to bottom, or does it sprinkle like pixie dust or fireworks all throughout?

Calvin is fairly far along on his “excited” profile but needs some help. It quickly turns into a big mess. Matt helps him with the dampening, the cooling down period and how to trigger at only one sensor at a time. It is enough so that Calvin can continue on his way. 

Matt figures out that perhaps there needs to be a way to turn sensors on or off at different SAIs. He made an interesting suggestion about triggering multiple loops. They have not really clued into the idea that you can have multiple profiles inside a map. I am also not sure that it has sunk in that two LEDs from the same SAI can be arranged and mixed up with the other strings. It does not have to be AA from one SAI and BB from another SAI. It could go ABAB or ABBA. This feels a bit like poetry rhyming schemes. 

Today was a big step forward. It feels like we are on a roll. We have the building happening, we know something about the batteries now and we are making progress on the Maps. 

Jose started to ask about how we are physically going to connect the lights and the electronics to the column. Matt challenged them to say that perhaps things do not need to be hidden, but they do need to be deliberate and thoughtful reasons to hide or not to hide.  


Jan 20, 2021


Word of the day, “ delicious”. Way back in Sept, I introduced the idea of a vinegar battery that would run for a long time, and would gradually build a charge on a capacitor that when fired would trigger a behavior. 

The first step was to figure out if we can even make it work enough to light an LED. I did not mention more. Ella was the only one that did her literature research, designed the experiments, got the supplies and did the experiments. She did more than one experiment, she also designed her own next steps that helped to isolate variables and come up with some hypotheses. I appreciate that she pondered the results and designed the experiments on her own. 


Today she presented to both Rob & Philip. Part of the rubric has 20% of the points reserved for a presentation to an outside audience. 

We had great directions about how a powerpoint poster would be different from a powerpoint talk. She not only took my advice, but she also applied the ideas to other sides as well showing how quickly she moves from being an obedient robot to a thinker. I like that we all congratulated her genuinely for a great job, but also legitimately made suggestions for improvement. 

Now the results. She found there the higher the concentration of acid, the higher the voltage and the lower the life span. She was able to get greater than 8V and last more than 5 days of a single LED light. 

It makes me happy that it sounds like our ideal conditions might be dilute acid so that it trickles over time. 

Since I’m not interested in climbing to the top of the ceiling every 5 days, I wonder if a large volume, dilute acid will suffice. As with everything, we will need to find a balance of sufficient voltage. 

Next steps, I think I’ll show her some analytical skills and use pipets and probe ware to measure voltage and current. Can we make a graph and extrapolate the settings for the battery that will trigger a response intermittently for a year? 

Wondering if we know the minimum size (current and voltage) of zap that the capacitor needs to be read by a Pi zero and trigger a response? How big of a capacitor do we need? How slow can we charge it? 


Jan 14, 2021



I have been searching for the correct settings for cutting the acrylic. Too low power or fast and it is not a complete cut and the edges do not melt. The edges are rough and not clear. Removing the pieces requires some force and it causes fractures, often just removing the pieces breaks them. 

However too much power and too slow causes overheating and too much reflow and “refreezing”. Again the edges are very UN-uniform , white like snow cones and brittle. There was audible popping and cracking during the cutting like ice cube’s from the freezer being placed in warm water. 

Finally with the help of Philip, we find what we hope is the optimum setting that gives a complete cut and enough melting to seal the edges to a mirror finish. They should be translucent all the way around. Got our set up, that means 99% at 0.8-1.1 inches/sec, around 2-3 mm/sec. It is so mirrored and translucent that Rob’s markings for jaw width were visible from the edges. 


Dec 11, 2020


After months of the adults talking and trying to get kids to interact, we finally had a bit of a break through. During the week, the grade 11s spend some time working on the SAI programs for different emotions. 

One of my grade 12s came for the first time, she was more productive in 30 min than all others put together. Listen to her talk about her light pattern and anxiety. Very insightful. 


Today was a great day, rather than content deliverers and facilitators, we acted more like consultants. It is coming.


Nov 27, 2020



Now that we have an idea what the lights could do, we think we are ready to start being deliberate about the emotions we want to extract. Matt suggested that students act out, silent film style or Pictionary style, different emotions and perhaps record it ala Tik Tok.

One group was struggling with the superficial or the improv style, so I played a bit of word association, I say black, they said white etc,.. just to try and get the spontaneity going. We adapted it to acting the emotion rather than drawing. 

Rob took one group and tried to graph the physicality with the emotion such as flash rate. Where would anger and sadness be on a graph that maps blink rate? There are a couple of good facial expressions on Rob’s face as he demonstrates.


Nov 25, 2020


We finally finished the hook tension column. This one took a couple of weeks only because of interrupted time on task. The comment was, “these pieces are a dream! They stay together so much better than the compression press-fit pieces.” I accidentally bumped into it and dropped it a bit, destabilizing it by compression and it only had a couple minor repairs. 


Nov 20, 2020


Today was parent teacher interviews and so the students all had the day off. Almost all of them said that they would like to attend anyway, so Matt and Rob prepared another day of work, this time a second round with the GUI Interface so that students could program the lights without using lines of CODE. Rob assures me that we are helping Living Architecture by helping to beta test the SAI hardware and firmware. That’s reassuring. We hope it will become a model for future STEAM collaborations around living architecture. 

Matt ran the show today. We reviewed the interface quickly so that we could control two LEDs (or other) with brightness and timing, with smooth or with “quantized” step patterns. There was some mention of some calculus and integration. I had flashbacks of Thompson’s and Simpsons approximations. FUN!!! Something to think about for future connections to curriculum. 

Matt also unveiled a new part of the interface that allowed a light sequence to trigger another string of lights with the added ability to dampen (decrease the intensity) by a percentage. One of the demos showed how you could place a handful of lights in a circle, use the trigger of one to “pass the hot potato” to the next pair of lights and then using the dampening effect, it could gradually die out. 

Now that students have a bit of experience, perhaps the next time this GUI is presented, I wonder if it should start with the effect first and then the tools. Start with what the person wants and then show the tool, or slider or reasoning. 

This interface is very cool and I think it is a big step forward. 


Nov 13, 2020


Today was our weekly conference. We have been struggling to get students to chat. They are not used to brainstorming or blurting. When they speak they want to give the “right answer“. This process does not yet have a right answer and so that is unnerving to them.

I created a survey of Starry Night, the Scream and the Thinker and Chihuly to get a variety of emotions. The last part of our meeting was to talk about what we want our work to evoke. This opened up to brainstorming and blurting. Before we started, I mentioned the idea of needing extroverts to get the ball rolling and then there being an awkward silence and then the introverts chime in, embracing the silence. 


They came up with these ideas for the work. Calming, thoughtful, not angry or upset, energizing, curious, approachable. They did not want people to just walk by it. They wanted to have people feel that they are creative, interactive, and inspiring. I talked a little bit about going shopping in the mall in Canada and how I just strolled by things, ignoring most. But in the markets in China or Mexico, the vendors come out into the mall to get you. Can the art come out and get you? Then they got silent.

I mentioned the idea that people sometimes misinterpret the silence after a brainstorming session as a sign that they are done. I challenged them that perhaps it is just the superficial low hanging fruit that is complete and there is another idea just waiting to surface if we will again embrace the silence. Maybe the very first idea was the best, but I would want to have options. Having many ideas and settling on one gives more credibility than only having one. 


Oct 31, 2020



Today was Pivotal!

Today, Rob and brother Matt gave a talk to our kids about how humans can give life (agency/personification/autonomous) to inanimate objects like LED. They showed a cool video about triangles and circles and how we assign stories to make sense of the things that we see.

[youtube video]


He showed that some lights tell stories, like a solid green light communicates that all is well, while a pulsing white light might convey that a computer is sleeping, but a flashing red light on a water heater with a sign that says possible explosion conveys something else.

If we want the chandelier to appear alive and not robot controlled, perhaps we should look to nature to see patterns that feel natural as opposed to contrived. He showed a video from National Geographic about fireflies in Mexico.

NatGeo Video


Then Matt showed us the SAI interface to control the LEDs. We are the first people to see this interface. Students were able to start creating profiles of different lights. Can you make a profile that evokes happy, sad, mad..etc…


Oct 28, 2020




The chevrons start at 2D, but then when pieced together form a wavy corrugation kind of shape. Engineers use that same undulating shape in metal (for roofs and in cars) and in paper (cardboard) to provide light weight strength. 

I wonder if Mother Nature has used some of these ideas to provide strength. For example, cellulose is used to provide strength in plant walls and is so strong that it is largely indigestible to the human digestive system and a major reason why cows chew their cuds and explains a good portion of their belching and flatulence.    


Oct 26, 2020



The first press fit compression column had a hard time fitting together. The jaw size matched the uncompressed cardboard nicely. However, when the parts are manipulated the cardboard is too fragile and it crushes. So when there is any amount of weight or stress, it falls apart.

We crushed the cardboard, and used callipers to measure the average thickness of the cardboard to be 1.2 mm thick.

So Rob “opened his big mouth” of the cardboard jaws. It seems that the mouth of the jaw is wider to make it easier to fit the pieces together, but the smaller distance at the back/end of the mouth would make for a more snug fit. 

One kid assembled the whole thing during class time while taking notes on naming binary and ternary acids as well as solving inequality algebra, in the morning. She made the sheet horizontally on the table, added the narrow chevrons, rolled it. She purposefully left the column of chevrons out. After they were all in the end caps, she then stitched the ends of the sheet to complete the cylinder. It is much more sturdy!!! It was faster because we knew what we were doing but mostly because there was minimal distraction in repairing. 

We used a glass rod down the center. The friction in the cardboard seems to be fine. 

This column seems a bit elliptical rather than circular around the diameter. 


Oct 16, 2020



We talked about the idea that while there were some distinct areas of expertise from the building to the coding to the electrical to the vinegar battery, a major part of the project is to have all students experience all bits in enough depth to gain an appreciation of how they fit together and to perhaps even change one’s perception of themselves. Can they use an area of strength to explore an unknown area?


Oct 14, 2020




Today we tried it. As an educational piece, we used bright orange string down the center with a needle at the top which allowed us to easily adjust the tension. It helped A BUNCH!


Oct 9, 2020



Today we finished the first Cardboard Column. It is together, but it is fragile. There are a couple of links that are not connected and as we try to repair it, two or three others break apart. The cardboard is twisting a bit, but all in all seems like a pretty good model. 

This time, she created the bottom half by making a long sheet of regular chevrons, connecting the narrow chevrons, then attaching the end chevrons and finally rolling it like a cinnamon bun to connect the end chevrons to the bottom plate. There was a little cheer when the bottom half was connected to the top half. 

I wonder if it will be better to put a post up the middle and build from bottom up and use gravity to push the pieces together rather than hanging it and having gravity pull the pieces apart.


October 6, 2020



We have been struggling with our “3mm” corrugated cardboard to fit in the jaws. Rob and Nicola have been adjusting the files and I have been trying to scale them. 

I stumbled upon a pile of trifolds for the typical science fair, they are a little under 3 mm. Perhaps I could try those with the original cut files… 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Upcycle. 

It Worked!!…so far. The pieces fit so nicely together. Now we will see if there is enough friction to hold the weight. 

One student asked, why do the jaws grasp each other from the bottom? Why don’t doesn’t the lower layer land ON TOP of the upper layer??

The student did not know it, but was suggesting the tension chevrons, which we eventually used.


October 1, 2020


On a visit to the studio in Toronto there was mention of a vinegar battery that could periodically trigger an event. Quickly, zinc and copper are added to two vials of a vinegar solution with an LED in between. Could we connect it to a capacitor that would charge over time and then be used to trigger a behavior.

Inside the column design, there are bulbs which could hold the batteries. This could be a cool way to bring in Chemistry.

We could purchase bulbs, but we also want to bring in the community and another type of art. 

The kitchen chemistry feel of the vinegar battery could be an interesting chem project for students to do at home during the COVID restrictions. It also speaks well for risk management. If the bulbs ever fell, we would not have some terrible chemical splashing everywhere. We will need to be careful if we get more concentrated vinegar. 

We do not know if it will work, or how long the volumes and concentrations will last. Will it last for a day, a month or a year? They have some concentration experiments to do. 

Also, instead of just having copper and zinc plates in beakers, what if we used copper wire and put some curls and swirls in it to make a design? I am not sure if I can get zinc wire or not. It could be interesting to build double helixes with the zinc and the copper wires.

Project Leads

  • Ian Fogarty, teacher
  • Rob Gorbet
  • Philip Beesley
  • Matt Gorbet
  • Meghan Best, teacher
  • Joel Fogarty, consultant

Supported by Riverview High School, Anglophone East School District, Brilliant Labs, Current Generation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

  • Brilliant Labs
  • Anglophone East School District
  • Current Generation
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada