Meet the Maker: Neal Ekengren, with MEOWSER

Neal EkengrenNeal Ekengren is a Maker from Longwood, FL. He has degrees in Engineering and Biochemistry and is an IT guru.  He first joined us at our 2012 Maker Festival, and again at our 2013 event, and we’re so glad he’s back again this year!  We asked Neal to tell us a bit more about his creation.

Neal says he was introduced to the Maker world by a 2011 Wired magazine article on the Arduino. He got one for Christmas and figured he would play around and light up a few LED’s. Then the Maker bug hit. He envisioned a multi-project utilizing the Arduino, Integrated Circuits, Minerals, Cabinetry, and Touch Screen displays, and his Mineral Element Browser (MEOWSER) was born!

MEOWSER consists of a wooden cabinet containing APEX mineral samples with LED lighting controlled from a laptop computer. The laptop can display either the periodic table or a layout of the cabinets. When the user mouses over elements or minerals the appropriate lights in the wooden cabinet light up. An Arduino microcontroller serves as the computer – LED interface.

The inspiration for MEOWSER, he says, came from

—The old Radio Shack electronic kits and Chemistry sets from the 1960’s which were his favorite boyhood “toys”.
—The great online mouse-over chemistry periodic tables that have appeared.
—The many element and mineral collections online that have been linked to periodic tables.
—The variety of Arduino LED projects and wiring solutions which have been shown.

The challenges for MEOWSER, he says, were

—LED Selection — Testing high power LED sources from China and Testing various cabinet configurations.
—Cabinet Construction — Three versions of wooden cabinet configuration were built and discarded to arrive at the final “simple” repeatable version with cabling.
—Electronic Engineering — Transistor Array and Shift Register integrated circuits were part of the discovery process after learning about Arduino power and pin limitations.
—Mineral Research — Created the APEX mineral definition and purchased the most cost effective APEX mineral samples that represented the Periodic Table.
—Software development issues were encountered with the serial communications between the computer and Arduino. Several versions of Arduino code were developed until the final “simple” version was created.

You can try out the MEOWSER, and get up to speed on your Periodic Table of Elements, at Gulf Coast MakerCon April 18th!

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