‘Garage Physics’ is a makerspace for undergraduate brainstorms

By David Tenenbaum, UW-MadisonGaragePhysics_web

To physics professor Duncan Carlsmith, a student’s proposal to make a four-rotor helicopter drone was fine fodder for what he calls “garage physics.” But why stop at a quadcopter, he told the University of Wisconsin—Madison undergraduate. Make one that is mind-controlled, so a person with severe movement impairment could think: “Go open the fridge and show me what’s inside,” and that would actually happen.

And, oh yes — round up some more undergrads, have them build it in one semester, and with the help of undergrad business students, draft a business plan: Would anybody want to buy such a brilliant drone?

Of course there were a few challenges, but that’s really the point, says Carlsmith, who runs Garage Physics, a makerspace in the bowels of Sterling Hall. “Just try something. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Make it fun, and low cost.”

Although the EEG mind-controlled quadcopter project did not result in a spinoff company, two physics student collaborators in Copenhagen began developing the copter for use finding some of the 40 million land mines strewn around old battlefields.

Garage Physics is located in the room where, in the 1940s, Professor Ray Herb invented a high voltage ion beam accelerator used by the Manhattan Project to invent the atomic bomb. That accelerator supported a successful spinoff: 90 employees at National Electrostatics Corporation in Middleton, Wisconsin, make the latest versions of Herb’s device. Read more …