Harlem Academy students visit RPI

Bill Babbitt


On June 8th, 9th, and 10th, Triple Helix presented a workshop entitled “Using STEM to support the financial stability of cultural traditions in low-income communities”, which was led by Fellow Alum Michael Lachney. Eleven Harlem Academy students attended the workshop during their visit to the RPI campus as part of the RPI, Harlem Academy Collaboration for Innovation partnership. During the workshop, the students from Harlem Academy learned about the intersections between technological innovation that support entrepreneurship (3D printing, computer simulations, and sensing technologies) and issues that low-income people face in maintaining control over their work and local businesses, health, and the environment. One area of research highlighted during the workshop was identifying ways that technological innovation can support low-income folks through turning cultural capital into financial capital and STEM knowledge capital.

The first activity students engaged in during the workshop was learning about the Cornrows hairstyle. Master Stylist and entrepreneur Nicole Daly, owner of Hair Journeys Salon LLC in Albany New York spoke to students about the geometry embedded in Cornrows and demonstrated her techniques for braiding the hairstyle. Nicole also shared her thoughts concerning running a small business.

Master Stylist Nicole Daly demonstrating the geometry involved in the Cornrows hairstyle.

Following this demonstration, students worked with the Culturally Situated Design Tools, Cornrow Curves Simulation software (here, Chrome Browser required), to create their own virtual designs. Once students completed their designs, they voted on which of their designs best met the criteria for a good Cornrows hairstyle provided by Nicole.


Triple Helix Fellow Ben Horne, working with students to program virtual Cornrows designs using the Culturally Situated Design Tool CSnap.



The winning student design that best met the criteria provided by Master Stylist Nichole Daly received six votes (using post-it notes).



The winning design was then physically rendered using a 3D printer.

Students designing virtually and then rendering their designs physically was a major theme of the workshop. Students were involved in a series of experiments to determine which physical rendering method provided the best results for their designs. Using a Weighted Decision Matrix, a majority of the students determined that 3D printing would be the best choice for rendering their designs.


Triple Helix Coordinator and Fellow Alum Dr. Bill Babbitt, reviewing the results of the Cornrows physical rendering experiments.

Students also learned about the problem of fakes and forgeries of artisan produced fabrics such as Kente and Adinkra cloth from Ghana, West Africa, as well as Lakota, Gees Bend, and Appalachian produced quilts. Mass produced fake Lakota, Gees Bend, and Appalachian quilts reduce these communities ability to earn a living from their authentically produced, hand-made quilts. The students read and reported on the problem of mass-produced forgeries and the effect these imported textiles have on small communities of craftspeople (here).

The students used the Culturally Situated Design Tool, CSnap to program their own quilt design, thinking of themselves as artisans producing a craft for sale.


Triple Helix Fellow Alum Michael Lachney, working with students as they create their own virtual quilt designs using CSnap.

Once their virtual designs were complete, it was time to render them physically. Dr. Audrey Bennett, a Professor in RPIs Communication and Media Department, led the students in an activity to physically render student designs in fabric. Students cut out fabric pieces and appliqued them to a fabric background, using their virtual designs as a guide.


Professor Bennett instructing students on how to use applique to create their quilts.


Harlem Academy students hard at work constructing their quilt.

Students then considered the use of technologies that might help identify authentically, artisan produced crafts from mass-produced forgeries. One technology made use of a Hall effect sensor with small magnets embedded in the cloth design using a particular pattern. If the pattern of magnets matches the sensor, then the craft is genuine.


Professor Eglash from RPIs Science and Technology Studies Department leads a group of students to create a Hall effect sensor using magnets.

The students also explored the possibility of using embedded RFID chips to identify authentically produced crafts.


Graduate Research Assistant Dylan Rees works with students using RFID chips and an Arduino-based RFID scanner.

In addition to exploring Hall effect sensors and RFID chips and readers, students also created a website page about themselves and their physically rendered quilt designs. The Hall effect magnet sensor and the RFID chip reader could help identify authentically produced fabric crafts. With either technology embedded in the fabric, the sensor responding to an authentic quilt could point a web browser to a web page detailing the production of the quilt.


Over the past several years, Triple Helix has had the honor and privilege of working with a group of Harlem Academy students, during their visit to RPI. We are delighted at the opportunity to work with such engaged, attentive, and awesome students, and eagerly look forward to doing so again next year!

Triple Helix would like to thank all involved in making this workshop a success. In particular, we would like to recognize our MVP (most valuable player) for this project, Triple Helix Fellow and soon to be Alum, James Davis. James contributions touched virtually all aspects of this workshop, for which we are truly grateful. Thank you, James!

Triple Helix at Medgar Evers College


IMG_0670Triple Helix made two trips to Medgar Evers College in NYC to hold workshops on Adinkra Computing and DIY Sports Science. Fellows Brian Callahan and John Drazan, along with alumni Michael Lachney and Bill Babbitt and co-PIs Audrey Bennett and Ron Eglash were all in attendance.

Triple Helix Fellow John Drazan in the news!

Bill Babbitt


Triple Helix Fellow John Drazan presented his program “Science of the Slam” to students from Nathaniel Rochester Community School No. 3 recently, and is featured in the following Time Warner Cable News Rochester segment:

Time Warner Cable News Rochester

John is passionate about engaging young people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) through tying sports science to sports performance on the basketball court. John is a man on a mission – doing his best to teach the “Science of the Slam” program to local school administrators, with the hope that they will catch the ball and also begin motivating young people, to see STEM topics as more than just something taught in the classroom. In addition to being a Triple Helix Fellow and graduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, John is STEM director at 4th Family, Inc. a not-for-profit group located in Albany, New York. The goals of the 4th Family group include empowering and engaging young people.

Go John!