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Construction of Book Press for the Literacy Fellows

Charlie Walker, Class of 2021, trying the hydraulic press.

For the second EDI Hackathon, 2020 and 2019 EDI Fellows designed two different book presses to help our brethren, the Literacy Fellows, make their books more quicker and easier than their current methods.  One of the designs was to modify a hydraulic press.  The new 2021 EDI Fellows constructed the book press as their first build project during the Jan 2018 Fellows Retreat.  Here is the portfolio entry by Charlie Walker ’21 about the experience.



Organization of Materials by 2021 EDI Fellows



Introduction: As EDI Fellows, our first group task was to construct a hydraulically-powered bookpress. We created this construction for Norfolk Academy’s Literacy Fellows. This piece of machinery would allow them to press books more efficiently and use less force on their part.

Method: When creating this machine, we divided up into two groups. At first, one group, (Keon, AJ, and myself) worked on the physical construction of the design. The other group (Caitlin, Olivia, and Christopher) organized materials that were soon to be used. Frequently, within the challenge, we would switch roles. This allowed some flow and variety between jobs for everyone.

Building Phase

Building Phase: Before building the model, we planned out what we were going to do. Splitting into two groups and discussing the instructions to the build, the planning phase went over very efficiently. During the building phase, we began to build the structure very efficiently without much disruption.

Building Phase Cont.


However, towards the back half of the building procedure, some turmoil occured. About halfway through the build, our team started to notice the whole constructions was not evenly level. This happened multiple times and required us to go back, unscrewing many nuts and bolts, and finally keeping the whole structure level.


Testing Phase


Final Results: Despite the turmoil that appeared within our groups, we worked through the problems and successfully finished the press. We were able to test the build multiple times on certain items, especially foods. Overall, the project ended up being successful, while also being a genuine bonding experience between us new fellows.


A Closer Look into ‘Soonish’ by Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weiner

EDI Fellows for the January 2018 retreat read the book, Soonish:Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything, by Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weiner.  The Directors then asked them to pick one topic or fact featured in the book.  Here is Sebastian Singh from the 2019 EDI cohort exploring the topic of ‘Programmable Matter.’


Programmable Matter

By Sebastian Singh

Sebastian Singh – Class of 2019

Topic: What is programmable matter? What impact will it have on the economy and everyday life? Is it reasonable to expect programmable matter is attainable?

Introduction: In Soonish, the authors believe programmable matter is the future of technology. Researchers are seeking new ways to create programmable matter, throughchemical processes and changes in environment. This portfolio entry will examine current advances in the field of programmable matter and discuss its impact.

Programmable matter is defined as “matter which has the ability to change its physical properties (shape, density, moduli, conductivity, optical properties, etc.) in a programmable fashion, based upon user input or autonomous sensing”[1]. Programmable matter ranges from things as simple as liquid crystals, which can be altered by the application of an electric field, to something as sci-fi as the shape-shifting liquid metal T-1000 from “The Terminator.”

There are two types of approaches to programmable matter. The first is modular robotics. According to Michael Alba, author of The Promise and Peril of Programmable Matter

, “The modular robotics approach to programmable matter aims to develop robotic units capable of arranging themselves into arbitrary configurations”[2]. In 2013, a team of MIT engineers created M-Blocks, self propelling and assembling robots. The M-Block pivots using the principles of angular momentum. The engineers explain, “Inside each robot is a flywheel that spins at up to 20,000 rpm. When a sudden braking is applied to the flywheel, it transfers its momentum to the M-Block, propelling it forward”[3].

The other approach is using metamaterials, materials with properties that cannot be found in nature. For example, researchers at Cornell have built “muscle” for shape-changing, cell-sized robots. They have made a robot exoskeleton that can rapidly change shape when it senses chemical or thermal differences in its environment. It works by using a bimorph. A bimorph consists of two piezoelectric crystals, which become electrically polarized when mechanically strained and vice versa. However, the stimulus can be present in many other forms including heat and chemical reactions. The materials used to create the bimorph are particularly important because of their chemical and physical qualities. The researcher at Cornell used glass and graphene. Graphene is so useful in this case because of its hybridization and extremely thin atomic thickness of 0.345 nm. Graphene is comprised of two bands: a valence band and a conduction band. The connection of the two bands influences the possibility to easily excite electrons out of the valence into the conduction band, making graphene a highly efficient heat and electric conductor. In other words, the 4 outer shell electrons in an individual carbon atom are available for chemical bonding, but in graphene, each atom is connected to 3 other carbon atoms on the two dimensional plane, leaving 1 electron freely available in the third dimension for conduction [4]. Glass plays an important part in the bimorph because its atoms are spread far apart. Not only does the bimorph respond to heat, but it also folds in response to chemical stimuli by driving large ions into the glass, causing it to expand. The bimorph is able to change shape due to the varying rate of expansion caused by differing thermal properties of each molecule. The researchers are able to make a variety of folding structures ranging from triangular pyramids to cubes. They do this by using using atomic layer deposition. According to the researchers at Cornell, this is “chemically ‘painting’ atomically thin layers of silicon dioxide onto aluminum over a cover slip — then wet-transferring a single atomic layer of graphene on top of the stack” [5]. Their machines can shrink from three times larger than a red blood cell to three times smaller than a large neuron. In Soonish, the author’s example of a metamaterial in use is a reconfigurable straw which changes shapes in water.

The effect of programmable matter on the economy is hard to predict because the final goal is so far in the future. However, if programmable matter envelops all industries, there will be a large effect on the economy. The majority of the population would be unemployed because manufacturing things if no longer necessary when you can program them. However, there would be much less dependence on money because of increased access to different objects. The authors in Soonish introduce good points, claiming that the programming for certain objects could be sold. They also bring up an interesting question: Could you create more programmable matter out of programmable matter or would you need to “go to the store and buy another bucket of goop”[6]. The effect on everyday life is rather obvious. Education would improve due to access to textbooks and humans would need less because of programmable matter’s omnipotent properties. However, there is a side to programmable matter that one might glance over. First, the programmable matter could be incorrectly programmed, leading to injury and death in extreme situations. In addition, if the matter is advanced enough, it could program itself, thus becoming self-conscious, and obtain the ability to end humanity. This idea is rather far-fetched though and hopefully is something we won’t have to worry about.

Through the examples mentioned earlier in this portfolio, we can see that programmable matter is a valid, attainable goal for the future. Despite recent advancements in the technology, it is too early to say how far programmable matter is from reality or if we could develop a metamaterial as advanced as transformium from the Transformer franchise, but we have definitely taken a step in the right direction.


  1. Toffoli, Tommaso; Margolus, Norman (1991). “Programmable matter: concepts and realization”. Physica D. 47: 263–272. doi:10.1016/0167-2789(91)90296-L
  1. Alba, M. (2017, March 24). The promise and peril of programmable matter. Retrieved January 17, 2018, from website:
  1. Hardesty, L. (2013, October 4). Surprisingly simple scheme for self-assembling robots. Retrieved January 18, 2018, from MIT News website:
  1. de la Fuente, J. (2009). Graphene applications & uses. Retrieved January 11,
         2018, from Graphenea website:
  1. Cornell University. (2018, January 3). Physicists build muscle for shape-changing, cell-sized robots. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 11, 2018 from
  1. Weinersmith, K., & Weiner, Z. (2017). Soonish: Ten emerging technologies that’ll improve and/or ruin everything. New York: Penguin Press.

EDI Speaker: Len Shropshire NA’89

The EDI Fellows hosted a Norfolk Academy alumnus, Len Shropshire ’89.

Len Shropshire  from No Limit Cycling modifies motorcycles for wounded soldiers with prosthetic limbs and other physical limitations.  He spoke to the EDI Fellows about his academic and career path to become an engineer that affects community change.  He also mentioned personal challenges that he had to overcome and how to not give up.   Len shared one challenge, spending a month to find out that a transmission part was put in backwards. HIs main message is that the frustration and the fear of failure can be difficult in engineering, but the ability to help others makes up for it. 

Hackathon: Book Press for the Literacy Fellows

On Saturday, November 20th, the EDI Fellows participated in an intensive event called a Hackathon to collaborate on a common problem, a book press for the Literacy Fellows.  Directors Dr. Kidd and Ms. Johnson approached the EDI Fellows to design a better book press for their in-house publishing, Catapult Press.   The EDI Fellows were tasked to design a book press in an intensive creativity summit on Saturday, November 20th.

Place cursor over images to read image captions.

Dr. Kidd of the Literacy Fellows and Dr. Galler of the Lower School EDI Program served as judges for this event.  They decided that both designs, the screw press and the hydraulic press, won the competition.  The screw press would suit small scale production while the hydraulic book press would facilitate large scale production and hard-cover publishing.  This project will be furthered in the coming months as the 2021 EDI Fellows will modify a hydraulic press and test it for the Literacy Fellows.

First EDI Hackathon

Hover mouse over each picture to see the text.



See Feature in Norfolk Academy News. 

EDI Fellows 2020 Summer Experience: The BIG Test

The Engineering, Design, and Innovation Fellows 2020 cohort stayed at Kiptopeke State Park (VA) to design and construct a concrete boat to hold two of them at a time.  On the third day, the Fellows mixed the concrete and let it cure for 24 hours.  On the fourth day, they tested the concrete canoe at Kiptopeke State Park.  Here is Sarah Haugh ’20 to provide insight into how the BIG test went.

On our final day, we were faced with the challenge of finding a way to get our concrete boat down to the beach. It was loaded onto Mr. Barton’s truck and taken down to the parking area by the beach where it was then put onto an ATV that could drive on the sand. We were ready to get into the water at this point because it was a very hot day. The boat was walked into the water upside down and we then flipped it, took out the foam, and began taking rides! Nik and Maguire were our official testers and were able to row around until we realized there was a small hole in the back of the boat. This caused no major issues as we just bailed it out with a bucket after each ride. When all 5 of were in it, the weight was too much for it to handle and it quickly filled with water. Overall it was a great experience to see something we spent time on, work as we wanted it to.


EDI Fellows 2020 Summer Experience: Frame Building

The Engineering, Design, and Innovation Fellows 2020 cohort stayed at Kiptopeke Park (VA) to design and construct a concrete boat to hold two of them at a time.  On the second day, the Fellows designed and constructed a frame to serve as a mold for their concrete canoe.   Here is Nikolas Chrones ’20 to provide insight into how the BIG test went.

At first when we were looking at the 12 foam boards that we were given to build the frame for the concrete boat we couldn’t figure out the best way to make a frame that would both be structurally sound and also large enough to hold two people. Coach Barton reminded us of the ziggurats that we built in 8th grade and we knew pretty quickly what needed to be done. We started by cutting the boards so that when stacked on top of one another it would form an upside down boat shape, then we took an orbital sander to take the edge off of the boards that we had cut. In the end we had a sturdy frame that wasn’t too small to
build our boat. To finish off our frame we put garbage bags over it so that the concrete would form in a smooth way that wasn’t too uncomfortable to sit in.


EDI Fellows 2020 Summer Experience: Day 2 Photo Collage

The Engineering, Design, and Innovation Fellow 2020 cohort stayed at Kiptopeke State Park (VA) to design and construct a concrete boat to hold two of them at a time.  On the second day, they kayaked around the historic WWII concrete ships sunk at Kiptopeke State Park.  The State Park Interpreter led the kayak tour and explained the history, mentioning that the ships were active in the Pacific Theater and after the war, were sunk at Kiptopeke to serve as wave breakers.  They then designed and constructed the frame for their concrete boat.  Here is a photo collage of Day 2.  

EDI Fellows 2020 Summer Experience: Cooking Meals

The Engineering, Design, and Innovation Fellows 2020 cohort stayed at Kiptopeke State Park (VA) to design and construct a concrete boat to hold two of them at a time.  During the trip, the Fellows cooked their own meals.  Here is Sarah Haugh ’20 to provide insight into how they planned and prepared the meals for the group.  

Along with the actual project, we were in charge of cooking all the meals for our trip. We were told this in the middle of May and that we had access to anything we wanted to use for these meals. A study hall was spent coming up with these meals and delegating who would cook what. When it was time to cook the first meal, we couldn’t get the stove to work. Luckily Mr. Barton came to the rescue and was able to fix it. Each meal was quite simple to prepare and we had fun taking responsibility for our meals. One meal, hot dog dinner, was cooked outside on the barbecue and it brought its own sense of challenges. Cooking our own meals gave us another thing to be responsible for and it was a good way to bring us together.