Students Learn to ‘BeAM’ in Telescope-Building Class


To see the stars, sometimes you have to start in the basement.

Students from different majors gathered in the basement of the Hanes Art Center last fall to build a telescope as part of the Maker-in-Residence program. Amateur astronomer Jim Pressley kicked off the project to launch the new Hanes Art Makerspace.

The Telescope Build Project was the first of the Maker-in-Residence series, sponsored by the department of applied physical sciences in the College, UNC Library, Be a Maker (BeAM) and Innovate Carolina, and funded through a Carolina Parents Council grant and BeAM.

With majors that included biology, art and Russian, the eclectic group of students tackled optics and mirrors, woodworking and power tools, design and painting.

BeAM day 1 _9

“At the core of the makerspace movement, there is this idea of beginner-friendly spaces where everyone feels included and welcome and empowered to make things,” said Michelle Garst, project manager for BeAM.

Chris Jadelis, a biomedical engineering major and equipment manager for the student group MakNet, believes the makerspace is beneficial to students.

“You can learn a lot from textbooks, you can learn a lot from classes, but having a space where you can just work with your hands and unleash creativity is ever so much more important,” said Jadelis.

BeAM day 2 _15 copyOn a cold night last November, you could find students painting a tube or sanding the edges of the telescope’s chassis as a laser cutter whirred, etching their names onto a piece of wood that would hold the telescope.

Michaela DeGuzman is a communication studies and studio art double major who has always loved astronomy and was part of the team that designed and painted the telescope.

“At first, they just wanted to paint the telescope Carolina blue, but since we do have painters on the team, we thought we could do something more creative.”

They were inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night and added UNC’s Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower for a Tar Heel twist.

BeAM day 4 _16 (002)WEBThe project culminated in a sky-watching party outside Morehead Planetarium. Astronomers from the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society, of which Pressley is also a member, joined the makers to give the public a chance to view the moon and stars.

Aashka Patel, a biology major, had always enjoyed astronomy but never had the chance to explore it until she took the course her first semester at UNC. Getting involved with the telescope project wasn’t just a chance to learn more in the field.

“I would never have even come into the arts building if I had not been part of BeAM,” Patel said. “It gave me the opportunity to do something outside of my major that I really like, and I’m just really happy that I managed to incorporate it somehow.”

To Garst, the makerspace lends itself to ingenuity born from collaborations among students and staff with different backgrounds. “It creates this environment and atmosphere for interdisciplinary collaborations, which is very unique and very special.”

The telescope is now housed in the Kenan Science Library, available for students to check out for stargazing.

The Hanes Art makerspace, equipped with power tools, drill press, T-shirt press, soldering kits and more, is one of three in the BeAM network. The Kenan Science Library makerspace, home to 3-D printers and other equipment, is run by Danianne Mizzy, who also conceived of the Maker-in-Residence Program. The largest of the three, in Murray Hall, will have a soft opening this spring and a grand opening in the fall.

Story, video and photos by Kristen Chavez ’13. View more photos at our Facebook album.