Maker Faire Taps Into Detroit’s Sense of Mission, History as City of Tinkerers and, Yes, Entrepreneurs
The spark of innovation can often be found in outrage—outrage that the world, or some part of it, does not yet contain something that has yet to be invented or brought to it. And James Peyer, University of Michigan stem cell biology Ph.D. student, part-time do-it-yourself entrepreneur, and participant in this weekend’s Detroit Maker Faire, is outraged.
Here’s why: When he was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, his younger brother was taking advanced high school biology courses. “I was appalled by the tremendously low quality of exposure to real science that high-schoolers were getting,” Peyer says. “They didn’t actually learn anything about how research was done, how science was actually done, and how we learn new things, and how we innovate and invent using science.”
That was outrage No. 1. Here’s outrage No. 2: An important tool scientists use in biotechnology is a PCR machine, or thermal cycler, to manipulate and replicate DNA. But even the smallest and cheapest PCR machine is $2,000—beyond the means of most high school science departments. The machines, themselves, are really simple—an aluminum block that heats up and cools down to rip apart DNA. Still, universities with big budgets or third-party funding agencies are already configured for PCR machines to cost anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000, so that is how much they cost for everybody.
“When we’re paying a couple hundred bucks for something like an iPhone, I feel like an aluminum block that heats up and cools down should not be $2,000,” Peyer says.
So, Peyer is doing something about it, to try and fill a void in the world to placate his outrage. His company, Otyp, is creating a simple kit for high-school science classes, a kind of “Hello, World” tutorial program for biotechnology that teaches high-schoolers the basics of manipulating DNA. Without getting too detailed on the technology, the experiment lets students clone a fluorescent gene and paint it out on a petri dish in whatever pattern they want. Otyp is also creating an inexpensive, open source version of a PCR machine that local school districts can actually afford.
Now, take Otyp, and Peyer’s sense of mission for it, and multiply it by 290. And that’s what you have at this weekend’s (July 31-Aug. 1) Maker Faire at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, MI—hundreds of innovative, outraged people who are hungry to change the world by filling a void.
This is the spirit of Detroit that Sherry Huss, director of the Maker Faire, wants to tap into. The Henry Ford, she says, is really a museum about the history of making, showcasing what Detroit was … Next Page »