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Posts from the ‘Cal Poly Science Café’ Category

On Foot! Adventures in city planning

The found objects included scraps of paper, foam hair curlers and plastic dinosaurs. The task? To build an ideal city using these disparate objects. With minimal instruction to encourage creative thinking, 140 people began building. They stood around tables in the second floor cafe area, working together to make cities unlike the ones we know, limited only by their imagination and plastic dinosaurs.

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Science Cafe is coffee, cookies and communication

What do nanotechnology, bionics, Japanese bookbinding and coffee cupping have in common? They’ve all been featured topics at Cal Poly Science Cafe, an informal speaker series founded at Kennedy Library in 2008 that explores compelling topics with an expert (or two). We’ve expanded the series to include areas outside of science, as a reflection of all that is taught at Cal Poly.

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Stewarding worms for Science Cafe

In my garage at home I carefully drilled small holes into a plastic bin that had once held guitar magazines. The worms had arrived at our doorstep earlier that day and I needed to make a home for them to live in until our final Cal Poly Science Cafe event of the 2011-2012 academic year on May 24, 2012.

That was about a week away and I was nervous about keeping the worms happy. I’m not sure why since they’re not that fussy and I’ve successfully kept dogs, cats, fish and plants alive. Nevertheless, I did some worried consulting with Hunter Francis, the Director of the CAFES Center for Sustainability, who assured me the worms would be just fine.

Indeed, they were and looking industrious during Hunter’s portion of Transformed! Closing the Loop with Worms, when he assembled a worm box while explaining the benefits of vermicomposting. Miguel, a Cal Poly student, was the lucky Science Cafe guest who won the worm box at the end of our get together. Miguel was excited to take the vermi-house home, where the worms now live on under his care and food scraps. I asked him to send us an occasional update via Facebook, to let us know the worms are well.

Beyond the small scale, Ralph Crevoshay, President of VermiVision, explained the history of vermicomposting (thanks Charles Darwin) and how it can be successfully used in large scale agricultural endeavors. They’re installing a system right here at Cal Poly, which is available to those affiliated with the university to use as a means to study different phenomenon that happen as part of vermicomposting. Learn more in the video below or by visiting our event page.

We hope to see you this fall for a new year of Science Cafes! Find out when they’re happening by joining us on Facebook.

Staircase as live, fun gameboard at Science Cafe

Recap — green won with 19 and gold came in at 17! Then it was a free-for-all as we threw dozens of remaining tennis balls down the grand staircase for fun. Good times, good, good times. You can read all about it here or on Boing Boing.

Cal Poly Science Cafe welcomed Michael J. Newman and Scott Hutchinson in February, and together we totally transformed our seventy-two concrete steps into a giant live game board.  We used 1,200 feet of wire, 48 Internet-connected tin cans decorated with green and gold balloons and, of course, tennis balls. The really awesome thing — beyond throwing balls down a staircase, in a library — was that the cans were connected to a live scoring site which players could view on their mobile devices or on displays throughout the library.

Here’s an interview with Scott and Michael about their inspiration and philosophy in making things for fun, along with some tech details:

We also have an awesome montage of the event.

To see the photo album of our fun go to Kennedy Library Flickr, where this photo is from.

You can read more about it and get source files on Michael’s site, Pomp.


Stitched! Science Cafe with Erin Zamrzla

You can make this! Our next Science Cafe is offered in conjunction with the spring exhibit Pressing Forward: The Book Club of California at 100, and is a Japanese bookbinding workshop with Erin Zamrzla. Erin is a designer who began binding books over ten years ago and since then has developed her skills working with a variety of bindings and materials, creating hundreds of books. Erin’s work has been featured in ReadyMade magazine,, Design*Sponge,,, and Her first instructional book on Japanese bookbinding, At Home with Handmade Books, was published in 2011.

Erin and I met when we both lived in Santa Monica. I had recently made good use of for my wedding and realized that I could also use it to find artists in the area who may be interested in teaching art and design. I found her work on Etsy and was so excited when she agreed to teach courses (at UCLA Extension, where I worked at the time). Now she’s coming to Science Cafe!

UPDATE: Watch the highlight video from Stitched! See photos from Stitched!


Where did your interest in handmade books begin?
I first learned bookbinding as part of my undergraduate graphic design studies. When I later taught the same bookbinding course as a graduate student, I created sample projects to show in class. By the end of the semester I had more hand-bound books than I knew what to do with. I listed them on Etsy and as each book sold, I made another one. This started everything. Although, my Mom recently discovered a miniature book that I made as a child. It is bound with yarn and illustrated with markers. So, perhaps it all really started in grade school!

Photo of Japanese stab bookbinding by Erin ZamrzlaWhere and who do you look to for inspiration?
Much of my inspiration arises from materials. I love searching through vintage ephemera and every kind of paper, including that which is destined for the recycle bin. The materials themselves often inspire a new project. I also find inspiration through other forms of art and design, particularly graphic design, package design and interior design. I am always inspired by things that are well designed, whether by nature or by humans.

Are there any popular misconceptions about bookbinding?
Upon mention of ‘bookbinding’ people often think of standard case bound, or hard cover, books. Most are unaware of the huge variety of other techniques and materials used to bind books, some of which have been used for centuries.

Photo of a handmade accordian bookYour husband is also an artist and designer. Do the two of you ever collaborate on projects and if so, what do each of you contribute?
Although we share a studio, we tend to work on our own projects. The exception is my most recent published book, in which Ben and I equally shared the role of photographer. For day-to-day projects, we often ask one another for an opinion on whatever we happen to be working on at the time. Ben is my tech-guy and we joke that I’m in charge of the purchasing department.

You’re working on a second book. Can you tell us about it?
This second book continues and expands on the projects introduced in “At Home with Handmade Books”. It is an instructional book, and will include photos of each project as well as detailed instructions for creating the books yourself. The projects focus on traditional Japanese bindings created with interesting and/or repurposed materials. In many ways this book is similar to the first, but introduces twenty to thirty completely new projects.

Contents of envelopes in bookbinding kitWe’re excited to welcome you as our Science Cafe guest in April. What do you have planned?
I am excited as well! I plan to teach a simple traditional Japanese stab binding. Anyone can learn! I plan to bring a mixture of recycled papers and all of the tools and materials needed for each person to create their own small hand-bound book.

<< Here are our materials for Science Cafe!


Erin will be at Kennedy Library on April 5 from 11am – 12:30pm. Find event info on Science Cafe. Return that evening for the Pressing Forward opening reception and talk with woodcut artist Tom Killion from 5-7pm.

See you there!

Photo of envelopes of bookbinding kit

Hypersonic! Podcast with Dr. DeTurris


Cal Poly Aerospace Engineering Professor Dr. Dianne DeTurris gave a compelling and quite funny talk on how this whole commercial space flight thing is going to get off the ground (I couldn’t resist) at Science Cafe on January 11, 2012. Read more

DIY: Physical Computing at Play (a preview)

Friday, when most everyone had left campus for the long weekend, we held a meeting in the library stairwell. Tennis balls were bounced, connections were tested and code was altered, all in preparation for the next Science Cafe. I’ve been planning the event with two designers I’ve worked with in my L.A. past, Michael Newman and Scott Hutchinson, and I’ve had to stretch my imagination to keep up with their vision. It involves using the grand staircase in Kennedy Library as a giant game board.


UPDATE: Read all about it on Boing Boing.

Yes, we’ll shut down the stairwell for about an hour on February 10 to test the game using tennis balls and circuits. The aim will be something like this: try to hit the switch (a can) with a tennis ball to beat the other team. Scores will be translated and displayed on nearby monitors. The winner gets lots of glory.

testing two

Here are photos of Michael and Scott’s pre-event make and test. Both workshop presenters are artists and excited about the idea of working with teams of people from all disciplines.

Photo of early ground testsSo, join us for a morning of making, strategizing and playing as we extend computers into the physical space to create a large-scale, interactive game in the library. Arduinos, breadboards, circuits and code all factor into the equation in a hands-on workshop that is open to everyone, regardless of experience. You can read more about the event and Scott and Michael at Kennedy Library Science Cafe. This event is co-sponsored by the Cal Poly Robotics Club.

Science Cafe is Friday, February 10 from 11am-12:30pm in the cafe area on the 2nd floor of the Kennedy Library. Refreshments will be served and games will be played!

Testing_2KeyPad Photo

– Karen