Bodleian Libraries host Ada Lovelace mini-hack for kids

On February 6, 2016

On Saturday 5 December, the Bodleian Libraries hosted a mini-hackathon for kids. The workshop celebrated Ada Lovelace and her interests in both computing and music, and students designed, made and coded innovative electronic musical instruments.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 13.08.01
The event took place in the Bodleian’s recently opened Centre for Digital Scholarship in the Weston Library, and it was sold out well in advance. Parents were invited to drop off students aged 11–16 in the morning and return at 12.30pm to see the workshop results.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 13.08.16Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 13.08.38

Sandbox Education’s chief executive officer and skilled educator Siobhan Ramsey joined specialist workshop leaders Tom Flynn and Daniel Lopez; the team brought with them a slew of hardware, software and other tools for the participants including Arduino boards, electric paint and ‘analogue’ supplies like cardboard and tape. Bodleian Libraries Digital Communications staff helped to organize the workshop and worked with students on the day as they built working prototypes.

Arduino interactive workshop

Participants connected Arduino (a low cost open-source electronics hardware and software platform) to their computer and then installed Tinkerkit shields and wired sensors. Using Processing, a text-based programming language designed to be accessible to artist and musicians, the children tested their prototypes, debugged errors and built cardboard interfaces for their new instruments.
Image of kid building sensiphone at Bodleian Libraries Mini Hackathon

At the end of the workshop parents joined their children, who demonstrated the electronic musical instruments they had built and showed how they had learned to change levels of light and sound, alter touch inputs and hack code to create their own unique sound.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 13.07.33

The Arduino musical instruments included:

  • A drum kit which played six percussive tones triggered via touch sensors
  • A notes and scales tool which played an octave (eight notes) from a musical scale selected in the code and controlled with sensors that changed pitch and volume
  • A ‘sound scratcher’ that played two loops of music and allowed speed and volume to be controlled via sensor input with virtual turntables
  • An Illumiphone and Sensiphone that played six tones at fixed pitches with volume controlled via input from sensors
  • A frequency modulator that played a single tone and allowed children to control pitch and timbre via input from sensors

Bare sound workshop

Taking inspiration from the Weston Library’s display about the life of Ada LoveLace, children designed and prototyped musical instruments that transformed touch into sound.

They explored the qualities of the electric conductive paint, using it to created Ada-related art. They then added wires and crocodile clips to build electronic circuits and connected these to a digital Touch Board developed by Bare Conductive.

After recording and sourcing sound files online, they uploaded mp3 samples to the Touch Boards, which powered the interactive touch captive musical instruments. They were able to play music by touching various elements of their creations to make different sounds. The instruments created included a magical flying horse inspired by Ada Lovelace’s desire to fly as a child, wheels and cogs from the Analytical Engine, and a human clarinet.


The first performance of Hugo’s midi light cups. #kidshack #lovelaceoxford #lovelacehack

A video posted by Dean McCarthy (@dmcsound) on


Everyone had great fun learning coding, physical computing, music participation and team work. View more footage online on Sandbox Education’s website.

With thanks to RS Components for helping with the equipment, and to Dean McCarthy of Music Tech Fest for his time and expertise.

Reblogged from Bodleian Libraries

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: