I've just stumbled across a magical photographic triumvirate: DIY, getting kids involved in photography, and education. It's called the Bigshot Camera: a self-assembly camera that teaches whomsoever is building it, whether aged eight or 108, about key science concepts in the process. It's a rather tasty science and creativity sandwich.
The camera has to be assembled in a specific order, but there are detailed instructions on the website to make sure that you get it right. Even more importantly, as you work through each stage you have the opportunity to learn about the science underpinning it, from optics to mechanics via electromagnetism and electronics, and back again. When it's complete, you should have a fully functional camera with a rotating wheel that houses normal, wide-angle, and 3D-capable lenses. If the battery dies, you can crank it back into life yourself.
One of the motivating factors behind Bigshot is learning by doing, and inspiring young people to get involved with science and engineering. It's the sort of project that a parent (or auntie) can work on with their child (or niece... I'm looking at you, Eva), but there's plenty of support for teachers who want to incorporate it into their teaching plans, too. Each camera costs about $90, but Bigshot has an extensive outreach programme, Bigshot for Good, that aims to bring the project to less privileged children, wherever they are.
From an idea that sprang to life in 2006, the Bigshot has been developed by Shree Nayar, a Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University. Along the way he has received research and design support from students led by Guru Krishnan and Brian Smith and funding support from a Google research award and an ONR Instrumentation Grant. Nayar founded Kimera, a social venture aimed at bringing the Bigshot to children and teachers the world over, in 2011. And from this month you can go ahead and order yourself one from the Bigshot website.
As for future plans, the Bigshot team is exploring two potential avenues: to continue to deepen the Bigshot camera experience by developing new features and enhancing the learning platform, or to develop other gadgets that lend themselves to the Bigshot concept of building, learning, and using.
The Bigshot website is well worth a wander: it's a veritable hive of knowledge and information, whether or not you want to buy a camera. Me? I'm totally in the queue for when they start shipping beyond North America!