What does a Geek Conference and Squishy circuits have in common with DC motors?

Last Saturday I was invited to speak at a local Geek Conference – the second annual Geek Conference. The theme of this conference revolved around proving the existence of God. It was an all day event and the speakers were geeks – two mechanical engineers, a chemical engineer, an electrical engineer, a computer programmer, and a mechanical engineer turned pastor. The pastor has a heart for technology and for geeks. In general, geeks are somewhat maligned in society and he wants to reach out to them to show them how important they are to society and especially to God. The conference was informative and thought-provoking as well. During the conference we had the opportunity to win prizes by figuring out mathematical and word puzzles. All in all, it was a great day.

During my presentation, I sought to explain four proofs for the existence of God. As an engineer, what really had the most effect on me was a three-word answer to the existence of God – “there are laws.” As most of you know, I have been building small DC motors for a long time, since I was a child. What has intrigued me the most is how the motors work. Simply, it is magnetism, the idea of attracting and repelling, Yes, you can extend that to electromagnetism,  electromagnetic induction (EMI), or back emf, but these all are related to magnetism. So, I attempted to prove the existence of God through laws – the laws of physics, laws of thermodynamics, laws of buoyancy, laws of morality, natural laws, etc. You can’t dispute that without these laws life as we know it wouldn’t exist. Bottom line is that if there are unchangeable laws it implies there must be a lawgiver and I proposed that lawgiver was God.

In demonstrating some of these laws, I used a kit I found from a company called Squishy Circuits. It is a company that was a spinoff from the University of St. Thomas located in St. Paul, MN. I first saw a TEDx talk by AnneMarie Thomas, an Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas, where she spoke about teaching circuits to younger students. The kit her company offers has a bunch of LEDs, a few buzzers, and a DC motor. So during my discussion I used the concept of squishy circuits to show how Play-Doh can be used as a conductive or non-conductive wire. One of the experiments included attaching a DC motor to the circuit. As you can see in the video (4th row down on the right with Matthew Schmidtbarr, a student researcher for Squishy Circuits) in order to complete the circuit, the motor must be put in the circuit in the right way. You can’t put the motor’s leads in one part of Play-Doh, it won’t run because the circuit is not complete. You can’t put the motor’s leads in each of the Play-Doh pieces and touch the Play-Doh together because it will cause a short circuit. These videos are informative and wished I had had these when my children were growing up while we were making DC motors. These would have been very good demonstrations at home and also the concept could be transferred so my sons and daughter could use them while speaking at the local and state 4-H Talk show.

The Geek Conference once again taught me that a person must stay flexible in learning and teaching new ideas and concepts to others. Be sure you keep an open mind.


Quote for the Day:  “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson



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