Ideabox: Plastic Bottles

Everybody loves to hate plastic bottles, and yet somehow it’s impossible to be rid of them, even for the most conscientious reusable-bottle carrier.  Here are a few incredibly cool artists who have figured out fun ways to repurpose the ever-present plastic bottle, and a few ways you can do the same.

ideabox plastic bottles

Art from the Ugly

Here are a few artists I admire, who work with plastics and make thought-provoking and beautiful objects from less-than-sightly leftovers.

David Edgar – makes impressively beautiful marine life sculptures from discarded detergent bottles.  He was a featured artist in the PEM/Art & Nature Center show, Trash Menagerie.

Miwa Koizumi – Her PET project created stunningly ethereal jellyfish and coral forms out of plastic bottles.  While not the most eye-catching of the pieces in Trash Menagerie, they were still among my favorites.

Christine Destrempes This artist is currently featured for her River of Words project in Ripple Effect, the Art of H2O, but one of her best known pieces is an installation of bottle caps, each representing a person who dies for lack of clean drinking water. 

Stuff You Can Do

Cool Project Links

Photo credit to the site linked below

Plastic Bottle Zippered Purse/Box – Upcycle those unredeemable bottles into handy containers.  (I’ve always been a fan of Winnie the Pooh’s ‘useful pot to put things in’ theory of birthday presents.)

Wave Bottles — One of my favorites, and you can find lots of suggestions for how to fill them.  (I use water with food coloring and baby oil because it’s perfectly clear, but some people recommend vegetable oil as well.)  I like adding a layer of glitter to lie on top of the waves, too, and gave people the option of also adding floating beads, or sinking shells, sea glass, and pebbles.  When I did this activity with a group at the museum, I went for a purpose-bought set of bottles with sealable leak proof tops instead of recycling, so that I didn’t have to worry about getting the label glue off.

Photo credit, Educational Innovations at

Science Kits — I don’t usually advocate for things one has to buy, and I haven’t actually tried any of these, so I don’t know how well they work, but they sure do look like fun.  (I really want to build a tin can robot!)

Plastic Bottle Bracelet Directions

It’s almost spring (or at least I can pretend it is, right?) and one’s thoughts naturally turn to the pleasant days to come when it isn’t imperative to wear three layers of sweaters on a constant basis and can bear to bare one’s wrists.  I was simply stunned at the variety of directions for making bracelets out of plastic bottles: these two cuff-style bangles are fabric-covered and felted, while this one (typos and all) recommends giving your bangle some twisted appeal by heating it over a candle.  I think anything involving not only exacto blades but heat and needles has the potential for tragedy, but then I gave myself a foot-long scratch with a sewing pin this weekend, so caveat crafter.

Photo credit Click the picture for directions!

My favorites, therefore, are these simple plastic and paper bangles, using two layers of bottle-rings to sandwich a particularly cool artwork, illustration, magazine cutout, or seasonal wrapping paper.  These directions recommend using metallic tape, which looks classy, but electrical tape works just as well, comes in a variety of fun colors, and stretches as you wrap it so you actually get very few problematic wrinkles.  The version I’ve made also cuts both rings at one spot so that the bangle can adjust to any size wrist: very helpful if you’re starting with a small bottle!

Ideabox: Water Balloons

Today may see a brief break in the previously unremitting gross weather of the last two weeks, but there are surely more scorching days in our future.  To that end, I present a post about water balloons.   (Because if they’re good enough for NASA they’re good enough for me…)

ideabox water balloons

Watch a Water Balloon Break in Slow-Motion

People Study This Stuff?

How does a water balloon pop in low or no gravity?  NASA wanted to know, and not just because it looks cool.  Think about delivering water to a colony on Mars, or to the International Space Station.   Think about taking a bath in orbit.  Check out the awesome video results of the Symphony of Spheres and other experiments.

If you’re looking for other cool water droplets and bursting balloons, look no further!  Doc Harold Edgerton was a pioneer of stroboscopic photography, and dozens of his videos and photographs are available from the online MIT museum collections.

But they’re mostly about fun, right?

There may be a creativity crisis in America, but these two kids have come up with 27 ways to play with water balloons…how many can you think of?

Or don’t use a traditional water balloon at all–this family documented their experiment with the amazing 120 foot water balloon using latex tubing.  (And these folks built an air-pressure-powered water balloon cannon…but if you make one of these, don’t tell me–and don’t blame me if your cannon explodes, as is mentioned as a possibility in the comments.)

Ideabox: Spools and Spindles

No princesses were injured in the creation of this post.

It’s time for another Ideabox–this time, on CD spindles and the many uses thereof, with a guest appearance by a few spools of thread.

ideabox spools

I think CD spindles are a remarkable piece of design: they’re the kind of thing that do what they’re supposed to very well, and then sit there and taunt you, gathering dust because they LOOK like you should be able to do something else with them.  If you have a few of these lying around that you’re looking to ‘upcycle’ into something new and useful, here are some ideas to get you started.  (Instructables was a really valuable resource in assembling this post.  You’ll see what I mean.)

First, a video that gives you four options in what feels like forty seconds, just to get you thinking:

Next, for the folks who can never get too organized:

  • The ‘you’re kidding, someone wrote instructions for that?’ Headphone Holder.  (Yes, they did.  But just because it’s easy and not exactly aesthetically pleasing doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid idea!)
  • The ‘I know a techie sort with too much jewelry’ CD Spindle Earring Holder.  (I know an artist who could really use this kind of display stand…)
CD Spindle Sandwich

Bagelwich Buffer

CD Spindles for the Plant and Animal Worlds:

  • Flower Planters — this is a particularly cool idea if you’re trying to do a science experiment that allows you to watch the roots of things grow.  Visible carrots!
  • Mushroom Storage Case — I wasn’t sure whether to put this under ‘plants,’ ‘organization,’ or ‘huh?’ but it’s cute.
  • High Speed Silent Hamster Wheel — For the fleet of foot, but not the faint of heart.

For the Electrically Savvy:

  • CD Spindle Lamp — Gorgeous, actually.  And using an LED or CFL bulb would make it even safer.  I’d love to see a version that took up less horizontal footprint though, for the sake of those of us who live in small spaces.
  • Water-Powered Tesla Turbine — There are a number of variations to this idea provided by ‘mrfixits’ on Instructables.  They’re all fascinating in a ‘how do you come up with these things?’ way.  I love the idea of using recycled materials and water power and magnets to talk about generating electricity, though.  (And on that note, a similarly cool variation, A Pringles Can Wind Turbine)

And finally,

Spools get to play too:

Detail from “After Vermeer 2” 2006, by Devorah Sperber. Click for link to artist’s statement.

Ideabox: CD’s and CD cases

photo credit to ChristopherA

Due to the upswing of digitally-downloaded music, mp3 players, et al. there are a lot fewer junk CD’s and spare CD cases lying around these days.  This is certainly good for the planet, but not so great for those of us who like making cool projects out of them.  Fortunately, computer programs still end up replaced, CD-R’s burn with skips in them and have to be redone, and random CD cases still turn up in the bottom of your desk drawer when you least expect them.

So…what are some fun and funky things to do with these fabulous plastic leftovers?

ideabox cds

CD’s themselves

It is, of course, completely possible to just Google ‘CD crafts’ and find some cute projects, especially for kids–there are a reasonable number of idea-starters at Kaboose, for instance.  However, all that sifting takes time, so here are a few others of my favorites so far.

For the seasonally appropriate: Making CD Christmas Ornaments

For the jewelry fan: Example of CDs turned into earrings

For people who like to play with fire: (no seriously, apparently they want you to use a candle to heat the CD in order to bend it!) How to Make a CD into a Cellphone Holster

For the purely silly: CD Air Hockey Rink

For the science-minded: CD’s are obviously cool for the way they split light into its component rainbow colors–this is called a diffraction grating.  For an explanation of diffraction grating, how it works, and CD’s in particular, click here.  For a really cool build-your-own-spectroscope project, click here.

CD Jewel Cases

For the nature fan: CD Jewel Case birdhouse/greenhouse

For the recyclables architect: Cubic Display Case on Instructables (there are a lot of other cool CD case projects on the same site, check the sidebar for a few examples!)

Still looking for more ideas? There’s another fun collection on HubPages, here.  My favorite idea there is definitely the suncatcher, but see what inspires you!

Stay tuned for the next Ideabox post: cool stuff to do with those CD-R and DVD-R spindles, thread spools, and more!

Looking through a New Lens: Interdisciplinary Programming (Even on a Small Budget)

This past week was the annual New England Museum Association conference, in Nashua, NH.  There were a number of fascinating sessions, ranging from ways to use content-embedded mapping projects, to the use of art in non-traditional spaces to further the ‘story’ of history or science, to ‘outside the box’ thinking about greening museums.  (Expect more thinking on some of those topics from me in the future!)

So, other than taking copious notes, wishing the hotel were just a few degrees warmer, and poking around the exhibit hall, what was I up to?

Meg presenting at NEMA2009

What am I bouncing about this time?

It was my great pleasure to chair a session titled “Looking through a New Lens: Interdisciplinary Programming (Even on a Small Budget)” with colleagues and friends from the Museum of Science, Boston, and Longfellow National Historic Site.  I’ve included my section of the presentation here, which provides basic background and coping strategies for ‘why do interdisciplinary programming?’ and ‘how to go about it’ depending on whether or not your idea bag is full.  Nancy Jones, supervisory ranger at Longfellow NHS then presented on some of the many ways she and her rangers make history, poetry, and art tangible, relevant, and exciting, and Mike Adams, outreach coordinator for MOS-Boston discussed the way their Archaeology week encompasses standard programs, special exhibits, and special events every October.

Why do interdisciplinary programming? (Which, for the purposes of this discussion and this blog in general is defined as taking one topic or idea which is usually considered part of one discipline, and looking at it through the lens of another less familiar one.)  First of all, why not?  There are a lot of good reasons, including giving your staff and visitors variety, attracting new audiences, and just plain having fun with it.  Not to mention the fact that in the age of standardized testing and rigid curriculum requirements, museums and other places of informal learning are some of the only remaining ways to explore, promote critical thinking, and generally enliven curiosity.

There are a lot of excuses for not doing interdisciplinary programming–expertise, time, and money are the big ones.  But depending on where you’re starting to brainstorm your ideas, there are a number of solutions available to you.

Have you already decided on a topic, an object, a person or idea?  Think about the basic questions: When is it from?  How was it made?  By whom?  Why?  What purpose does it serve?  How does it connect to today’s life and people?

If you don’t have an idea, there are three organizing questions to start your brainstorming:

  • What do you wonder?
  • What do you love?
  • What do you have?

Wonder: Maybe you have a popular program but you’d like to take it further, or in a new direction.  Maybe you’ve read an interesting article in a newspaper or magazine and would like to explore it beyond what you’ve read.

Love: This is the simple one, and my favorite.  Are you a frustrated actor?  Write programs that give you an excuse to dress up.  Feel like you’re living in the wrong time period?  Always wanted to be an astronaut?  Think about the things you (and your staff) love: your hobbies, interests, pursuits outside the world of work.  Bring them in and share them with your audience: the more enthusiastic you are, the more convincing an educator you can be.

Have: The bare bottom line.  Still don’t have an idea?  Look at what you’ve got.  Are there exhibits that you could liven up by changing signage or context?  Can you think about them from a different point of view, only tangentially related to the main story you usually tell?  Or are you starting with the infamous box of cool junk under your desk?  (Mine has multiplied in to several boxes, of spools, coffee filters, neat plastic tubes of different shapes and sizes, altoid boxes, magnets, and heaven only knows what else.)  What in that inspires you to make something, explore something, combine with something?

Still stuck?  Call a neighbor or a friend with the right expertise for what you’re hoping to do.  Generally we non-profit types are more than happy to help.  Also, don’t forget to poll your staff and make friends with your local librarian.  You never know what they might be able to find for you!

Meg, Mike, and Nancy at NEMA2009

Many thanks to Mike Adams of the Museum of Science and Nancy Jones of Longfellow National Historic Site!

If you’re interested in any of the handouts from the presentation or in Mike’s or Nancy’s presentations, please let me know.  Many of the resources I referenced in my presentation are already listed here on Brain Popcorn in the Resources section, and I add to it frequently.

Find some of my other program presentations on SlideShare, here.

IdeaBox: Altoid Tins

ideabox altoids

In a past life, I must surely have been a magpie.  (Oooh, shiny!)  I have always been an irredeemable collector, and in my current job, I have all the excuses I need to keep bits and pieces around for inspiration.  The areas on, around, and under my desk contain feathers, stones, LEGO’s, rubber ducks, silly putty, macaroni flowers, solar powered toy cars, and a whole box of interesting shaped containers, foam pieces, springs, and whatnots.  From these pieces of rubber tubing, marbles, fabric swatches, and more, I get program and exhibit ideas all the time.


And so I bring you the fun and funky ideabox links for today: Five Reuses for Altoid Tins.  Planet Green’s top five include building tiny speakers, a solar gadget charger, a wallet, a survival kit, and a geocaching box (think I might have to try some of those!).  Or, for the more artsy among us, a watercolor traveling kit, and create your own travel candle.  (Though I wonder about the heat–I’d recommend putting it on a plate or coaster before burning!)

Here are a few other (less technical!) idea starters:

– Altoid tins are magnetic!  Turn one into a tiny on-the-road game box with magnetic pieces.  What else might you be able to do with magnets and an Altoids box (or two, or three, or more?)
– Glue a mirror in the lid and keep your kleenex in the bottom.  (Don’t you hate how those little plastic packets let your tissues get all shredded in your pocketbook?)
– Sound shakers and mini-cymbals for the extremely young musician, when you’d rather save your pans. (The round tins are particularly good for this one!)
– Start seeds in the world’s tiniest window-boxes.
– Make a fold-out mini-storybook, photo album, or travel journal with accordion-style pages.