Mission to STEM is an interactive app which weaves historically significant NASA artifacts together in a single mission. The app uses augmented reality, virtual reality, video production, and interactive game design to involve visitors in meaningful interactions with gallery artifacts .
The Mission to STEM app brings the museum's Apollo space capsule to life with 360° panoramas. Visitors examine parts of the capsule which are typically inaccessible to the public while completing a mission-critical task.
Visitors use augmented reality to "find" a rover tucked inside a gigantic and historically significant artifact: the Mars Airbag Landing System. An identical set of airbags cushioned the fall of the Pathfinder rover and allowed it to land safely on Mars.
Sensor Zone invites visitors to explore sensors of all kinds - pressure sensors under foot, light sensors in walls, and distance sensors overhead - to trigger light, sound, and motion in whimsical and real-world settings.
The Sensor Maze challenges visitors to explore sensors along a winding path through the museum by trying to make it through the maze without tripping any sensors or by deliberately finding and setting off all of the hidden sensors. Stoplights change from red to green and back again, sound effects blare, and lights flash as children navigate the maze.
Sensors embedded in furniture and hidden under the rug transform a living space into a whimsical form of home automation. Children trigger music and lights, and even cause a disco ball to spin, simply by moving about the room. Spontaneous dancing is a frequent occurrence in this wacky, high-tech clubhouse.
Hellenga Projects was awarded Patent #9,782,686 for a "kit for electrifying a system of bricks in a brick building system." This "Brickvolt" system can transform LEGO baseplates into functional circuit boards and breadboards. It enables the creation of quick-connect circuit blocks for the classroom and offers more durability than wiring kits sold for use in lighting up LEGO creations.
Electrical components can be attached to - or embedded in - an assembly of bricks without soldering and without wires. The clutch power of LEGO is sufficient to make a good electrical connection. Bricks press the conductive tape against the electrical contacts.
The storytelling power of LEGO gives children a compelling reason to master circuit layout as they build original LEGO creations with hidden electrical paths and connections.
Consultant (2012 to present)
Perform strategic planning and oversight for clients pursuing major exhibition initiatives and capital projects. Manage in-house teams and external design resources to deliver compelling learning experiences which engage audiences, attract funding, drive attendance, and deepen community involvement. Identify and promote best practices in informal learning on behalf of museum associations.
Maker & Inclusion Advocate (2013 to present)
Invented and patented flexible circuit boards and LEDs which snap under LEGO bricks. Regularly present gender-friendly and disability-friendly DIY electronics projects at STEM fairs, Maker Faires, LEGO conventions, and professional conferences. Apply storytelling power of LEGO to make circuits more appealing and less intimidating.
Selected clients include the following:
Great Lakes Science Center – Cleveland, OH
Wrote experience description for successful $1 million NASA grant. Supervised client’s staff and external software developers, evaluators, and advisers to implement Mission to STEM. Tablets guide visitors through space missions and bring NASA artifacts to life with augmented and virtual reality. Embedding artifacts in mission stories provides context, ensures meaningful interaction, and deepens visitor engagement.
The Works – Bloomington, MN
Produced report to support museum’s strategic plan. Outlined key trends in engineering, open-source technology, museum visitor demographics, and inclusion of children with autism. Supervised client’s staff in producing Sensor Zone, with an Arduino-controlled maze, high-tech clubhouse, and other exhibit stations.
The Discovery Museum – Acton, MA
Translated master plan into measurable goals and visitor outcomes for the new facility opening March 2018. Won four grants totaling $500K from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Researched the cognitive and emotional benefits of time spent in nature to aid planning process for outdoor exhibit. Developed comprehensive summary of inclusive design strategies to guide design of new facility and exhibits.
Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education – Washington, D.C.
Served as writer, editor, and producer for The Principal Investigator's Guide: Managing Evaluation in Informal STEM Education. Gathered and presented the collective wisdom of senior museum professionals.
Association of Children’s Museums – Washington, D.C.
Panelist for Advancing Accessibility in Museums. Selected children’s museums to receive awards for notable inclusion practices in museum programs, exhibitions, and facilities.
B. R. Ryall YMCA – Glen Ellyn, IL
Teamed up with the YMCA to offer summer camps at the College of DuPage. Beta tested flexible circuit components that snap under LEGO. Participants transform LEGO base plates into circuit boards.
Workshop 88 – Glen Ellyn, IL
Procured funding from Maker Ed Foundation to produce Teknistas after school program and summer camp introducing girls to DIY electronics. Secured venues, recruited participants, and beta tested curriculum featuring interactive LEGO displays, glowing gummy bears, light-up duct tape roses, and Teddy bear t-shirts.