Hye Kyong Son’s LED cactus project will be featured alongside the Ryerson Society of Awesome’s Light Seed project. PHOTO: BRIAN BATISTA BETTENCOURT

LED cactus proves a prickly process

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By Astoria Luzzi

Tucked away in a lab across from the Tim Hortons in Kerr Hall East, a group of students work with wires and blinking lights.

Their group is called the Ryerson Society of Awesome (SOA), consisting of 28 members, hailing from all strands of the physics department.

At the beginning of the summer, Graham Pearson, who is involved in running the undergraduate lab program, sent an email to all physics students hoping to recruit a team to brainstorm and develop a project for Nuit Blanche.

“Ryerson put out a call for artists within the Ryerson community to propose ideas for Nuit Blanche, which gave me the idea that the physics group could probably come up with something quite interesting and make a bit of a project out of it, so I started a little after-school club,” Pearson said.

Hye Kyong Son, a fourth-year medical physics student jumped at the chance to be a part of the SOA, but was hesitant at first because she had no experience in electrical engineering.

“I don’t have any knowledge of actually building electronics, or working with resistance and registers,” Son said. “I felt like I didn’t fit in this group. But it represents the physics department so that’s why I joined.”

Over the summer, Son spent three months learning basic wiring on a protoboard, but then it was decided that the project would be completed digitally instead, leaving Son with even less of a concrete idea of how to contribute to the project. “I felt like I couldn’t do anything,” she said.

Not wanting to leave the SOA, Son brainstormed how she could make her mark on the project while doing something that she could learn quickly.

After watching a few YouTube videos featuring different LED designs, Son had a solution.

She chose to create an LED cactus, and explained her choice by describing the forgiving character of a cactus which can survive without constant attention or care.

With this in mind, she began developing her side project, installing sensors so the cactus emited coloured light in response to touch or movement.

In an effort to minimize the cost, Son tried to make most of the LED cactus and it’s environment from recycled material.

The flower pot she plans to present it in is from her mother’s garden and the wires are from old computers.

She calculated all expenses and in the end the project as a whole cost less than $80. The Arduino software, which is used to program the sensors, costs approximately $50 and LED’s about $18. She got all the other material from home or the dollar store.

Since the project became digital, Son says the process has become simpler. Instead of building her project piece by piece, she was able to program the sensors through the computer, but not without the help of her boyfriend Santiago Lee. Lee has little experience with coding, but has worked with electrical engineering in the past.

Son and Lee have not let their lack of coding and programming skills get in the way, and are learning the steps as they go.

The physical work on the project started a week or so before school started, and her final product will be displayed on Friday, Sept. 29 at Nuit Blanche.

It will be featured in a booth on Church Street between Kerr Hall and the Rogers Communication Center, along with the SOA’s main display, Light Seeds, a vertical display of LED lights that will hang off the bridge.

The LED cactus is only a small piece of the whole project but Son is proud to have risen to the challenge to create “something different and organic.” She hopes her project will give people the opportunity to see the LED sensors up close and on ground level in order to have a better idea of how they work.

“Through this experience we learned a lot,” said Son, adding that there will definitely be more LED projects in her future, and will probably take her less time to complete since she has learned a lot of the process.

She says that maybe next time she will create something that follows the similar organic look, an LED representation of something else, “maybe an octopus.”

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