Open and Sustainable Engineering Hack Chat

Open source, pro-human, and pro-tech

Wednesday, August 19, 2020 12:00 pm PDT Local time zone:
Hack Chat
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Joshua Pearce will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, August 19, 2020 at noon Pacific Time.

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Since the first of our hominid ancestors learned to pick up a rock and make it into a tool, we humans have been using our engineering skills to change the world. For most of the 2 million or so years since that first technological leap, natural materials like stone and wood were the focus of our engineering projects, and except for a few tantalizing remnants, most of what was built has returned to the Earth whence it came.

Then we discovered other materials; we learned to free metals from rocks and harvest the fossilized hydrocarbon remains of ancient plants. Iron, aluminum, plastic, and silicon became our stock in trade, and the planet is now layered so thick with these materials and the byproducts of harvesting them that a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene Epoch, has been proposed to cover this time of human activity and its impact on the geological record.

But if we humans are clever enough to make such an impact, we should be clever enough to think our way out of the mess, and wise enough to see the need. That's where the efforts of Dr. Pearce's research at the Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) lab are focused. Dr. Pearce envisions a sustainable future powered by pervasive solar photovoltaic systems and using open-source technologies like 3D printing to drive new models for manufacturing. We've recently seen interesting work from his lab, like this grinder that makes custom compression screws for plastic recycling. The MOST page on is filled with other great examples of the technology that supports their mission, from low-cost environmental testing instruments to 3D-printable microfluidics.

Dr. Pearce will join us on the Hack Chat to talk about open and sustainable engineering. Be sure to stop by with your questions and to find out what you can do to engineer a brighter future, starting right in your own shop.

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

    Dan Maloney08/19/2020 at 20:11 0 comments

    Andreas Kahler joined the room.11:56 AM

    OK everyone, time to get started. I'm Dan, I'm the mod for today's Hack Chat with Dr. Joshua Pearce from Michigan Tech. He's here today to talk to us about open and sustainable engineering.

    Joshua, I think you're signed on as @MOST, right?

    MOST12:00 PM
    Yes - that is me - Hi Everyone!

    Welcome! Can you maybe start us off with a little about your background and what your research focuses on?

    keith_allen53 joined the room.12:01 PM

    MOST12:02 PM
    Sure- I am an engineering professor at Michigan Tech in the US, a visiting professor at Aalto University in Finland and Université de Lorraine, France. I run the Open Sustainability Technology Research Group. We develop open source appropriate technology to find collaborative solutions to problems in sustainability and poverty reduction. We take both the open source part and the sustainable part seriously. Kind of a Hack-a-Day approach for the poor – but a lot of the technologies have dual use. So for example, we do a lot of work in solar photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. The solar panels on my garage are powering my Linux Mint laptop now, work just as well (and maybe a bit better) doing the same thing in a village in the developing world. Similarly, the RepRap 3-D printing, we use to make our own scientific tools can be used to make low cost medical equipment in the field or toys for our kids. All leveraging open source development to bring wealth even to those that do not have a lot of money.

    For context, this is where I first heard about your work:

    Hackaday Dan Maloney

    Open-Source Grinder Makes Compression Screws For Plastic Extruders Easy

    In a world that's literally awash in plastic waste, it seems a pity to have to buy fresh rolls of plastic filament to feed our 3D-printers, only to have them generate yet more plastic waste.

    Read this on Hackaday

    Dan Brinks joined the room.12:04 PM

    I just loved the flexibility of that jig, and its simplicity

    MOST12:06 PM
    Thanks Dan - that is actually a really good example of combining a bunch of research together. The components are mostly RepRap 3-D printed

    Nicolas Tremblay12:06 PM
    Wow, i hadn't made that connection. I already checked your other projects here on HackaDay and that one.

    Marco Pfeffer joined the room.12:07 PM

    Yeah, MOST has a ton of project on

    MOST12:07 PM
    Thanks Nicolas. The goal for us was to be able to research different kinds of compression screws to make low cost direct drive pellet/ particle 3-D printers like this study

    Hackaday Projects is a platform for people who like to build things.

    Read this on Hackaday

    Have those screws made it into a printer yet? I'd love to see that build.

    jwosnick12:08 PM
    @MOST -- I think I first became aware of your work when you were starting the open-source lab-equipment work a number of years back. I have looked at some of the projects published in HardwareX with interest.

    MOST12:09 PM

    MOST12:09 PM
    We have already shown that direct printing shredded waste on a large scale with a re:3D GigabotX works really well -


    jwosnick12:10 PM
    I come at this from a chemistry / materials science perspective. Seeing low-cost equipment fill in where crazy expensive stuff is normally needed is always heart-warming.

    But in your opinion -- is there any basic lab equipment used in the sciences where there is still a need to "go pro" and home-brew, Arduino- or RPi-based solutions are either not good enough or too difficult to make? In other words, where are the big challenges in open-source lab equipment?

    ... Read more »

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