What if you could illuminate your thinking? Using simple materials like copper tape, surface mount LEDs and batteries, you can light up your notebook to literally highlight your personal light bulb moments. Explore basic scientific concepts like conductivity, current flow, simple circuit design, and mechanical switches while making your notebook come alive with beautiful electronics.
These flat, simple materials make it easy to create circuits anywhere you want them.
Print out the storybook template.
Assemble the template into a mini-book. This video from YouTube user Simple and Easy Projects demonstrates.
Choose a story. Use the storyboard page to plan your story in four panels.
In panels 2-4, decide what visual elements should light up in order to enhance the story and circle them.
Using your storyboard as a reference for LED placement, construct circuits on each page. Then draw the scene around the copper tape and LEDs.
We're working to create our own step-by-step tutorials and a page of tips and tricks. Until then, take a look at some of these resources to spark your imagination and get you started.
High-Low Tech at the MIT Media Lab | Tutorials, templates, and information on paper circuits
Jie is a doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Lab in the Responsive Environments research group. With a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, Jie's work blurs the boundaries of science, engineering, and art by exploring the synergistic relationship between technical and artistic competencies. Whether making self-folding origami, paintings that change with viewer interaction, or interactive light-up pop-up books, Jie's playful investigations inspire not only with their beauty but with their implicit invitation for audience to become participant.
Program your pages. Add more control and features to your notebook by adding microcontrollers like the ATTiny85 to your paper circuitry. Make your LEDs blink in different patterns. Have them react to a light sensor. All this and more is possible with a chip, a computer, a few components, and the Arduino IDE.
Hide a message in plain sight by programming a microcontroller to tell an LED to blink a message in Morse code. Hand your friend the code key and tell them to keep it secret and keep it safe!
Our example here has a radio blinking SOS.
Tiny AVR Programmer (SparkFun)
3V coin battery (like this)
Copper tape with conductive adhesive backing (like this)
Computer with the Arduino IDE installed (download here). The Arduino IDE = The Arduino Integrated Development Environment. This is the application that lets you write code and send it to the microcontroller.
Blinking Morse Code Alphabet for Arduino: .RTF file (download here)
Plan your coded message. Decide what you want to illuminate with a blinking light.
Get your computer ready to code. Download and install the Arduino IDE and the ATTiny85 library. SparkFun has a step-by-step guide that walks you through the entire process. Complete all the steps on the Driver Installation page and up to Step 3 of Programming in Arduino.
Write your code. Open Arduino on your computer and copy the code in Step 5 of SparkFun’s tutorial into an Arduino Sketch. Use the Blinking Morse Code Alphabet for Arduino to replace the code in the loop section of the sketch to spell out your secret message.
Insert the ATTiny85 into the Tiny AVR programmer. When inserting the microcontroller, make sure that the dot on the chip is on the same end as the notch illustrated on the USB stick (see Image 1).
Plug in the Tiny AVR Programmer into your computer’s USB port.
Click the Upload button in the Arduino IDE to load your code onto the microcontroller using the Tiny AVR Programmer. The LED built into the Tiny AVR Programmer should blink according to the pattern you programmed. Watch the LED and make any necessary adjustments to timing or pattern. Remember to upload the sketch to the microcontroller after each round of changes.
Use the pliers to gently bend the legs on the microcontroller so they lie flatter but still make contact with a flat surface.
Make your circuit, place your LED and the microcontroller. Secure firmly with tape making sure that the three pins of the microcontroller are making strong contact with the conductive tape. See Image 2 for an example of how to wire your circuit.
Power the circuit.
More coming soon!
SparkFun: Everything you need to get programming with their Tiny AVR Programmer is included in their hookup guide, from set up to programming.
High-Low Tech at the MIT Media Lab: Programming the ATTiny in Arduino. This page shows you how to bypass the Tiny AVR Programmer and use a breadboard, Arudino, and a handful of other components.
Instructables: User randofo created a highly illustrated step-by-step of the breadboard + Arduino method.
Natalie holds a B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science from Arizona State University and an M.S. in Media Arts and Sciences from the MIT Media Lab. She currently teaches computer science and robotics at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco and collaborates with the Exploratorium. Natalie likes to work in spiral-fashion: continually circling back to favorite ideas while expanding a bit each time. Some recurring obsessions include: new ways to connect at a distance, dollhouses and furniture both tiny and large, imaginative play, storytelling tools for shy voices, tangible interfaces with a love for beautiful materials, and most recently, parametric design.
Part of what makes hacking a 21st century notebook so much fun is the variety of materials you can use to illuminate your thinking and engineer your ideas. Here are some of the materials we've been using and where we get them from.
A note on sources: These are listed in no particular order, although the first source listed is where we generally get that item. Make sure to check out a product's dimensions/length/quantity when comparing prices!
You can also order a complete kit from our partners at CV2.
Our Hack Your Notebook series of mini-educator guides provide a pocket-sized overview of how notebook hacking fits into larger discussions of education policy, standards-aligned class projects as well as introductory activities. Created for educators in professional development settings, these booklets offer unique hands-on explorations in creative learning.
Basic Notebook Hack
These two resources were developed to support the Morse Code Secret Message activity found here.
Arduino Morse Code .RTF file
The Rhythm of the Light Worksheet