LED Lightboxes

It’s always fun when we can find projects that combine fabrication methods in new ways. This lightbox, based on a design from UVA graduate student Michael Clemens and built by 4th year student Shay Breneman, combines coding, 3D printing, and laser cutting/etching to produce a striking desktop ornament. All of the parts need can be found at the end of this post. You can design the shape of the case and the acrylic panels to suit your own individual style.

Lightbox designed and built by Shay Breneman
Shay Breneman

The first thing Shay did, was design her enclosure. Built into her enclosure are slots for eight acrylic discs, as well as openings for a power cable, on/off switch, and cycle button.

While the enclosure was being printed, Shay moved on to designing the pattern to be etched onto the discs.

Clear acrylic, when etched and lit from the side, will largely remain clear, with only the etched area picking up the color from the light. When additional layers of clear acrylic are placed behind the etched piece, they will create reflections the layer in front. With colored LEDs providing the light, this produces an almost holographic effect.

Shay used eight discs in our design, with images etched onto only the first five. The last three act as additional mirrors to provide more depth.

The electronic components are wired as shown below. A 9-volt battery can be used as a power source. Alternately, the ends of a USB cable, if stripped can be used to supply power. This will allow the lightbox to be plugged into a computer or other USB power supply. (Note: if using a USB cable to to power the lightbox, the green and white wires can be cut away. They normally carry data and will not be needed here.)

Wiring Diagram by Michael Clemens

Once all the components have been connected and fit into the case, they should look something like this:

Now, when plugged in, the switch in the back will turn the LED panel on, and the button on the front will cycle through the colors programmed into the Arduino.

To program the Arduino:

  1. Follow this link and download all files and folders.
  2. Using Arduino IDE, load all three files in the Libraries folder onto the Arduino.
  3. Upload the Neopixel Firmata to your Arduino.
  4. In Snap4Arduino, open the Libraries menu and import the Snap Blocks XML file.

Parts needed:

  1. Arduino Nano
  2. LED array
  3. 1/8″ Cast Acrylic
  4. SPDT Switch
  5. Momentary Push Button
  6. USB Micro Cable
  7. USB Wall Charger

Maker Spaces and Covid-19 Response

With the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that many hospitals and first responders are currently facing, the threat posed by the Covid-19 virus can be particularly scary. Luckily, while government agencies and corporate manufactures struggle to find a solution, local maker spaces are stepping in to bridge the gap.

In addition to many of the ingenious designs being shared, UVA engineering professor Kieth Williams has come up with the following design for a simple face mask. The pattern for it can be found at the end of this post.

First, the mask is sized in Silhouette Studio and then cut from heavy card-stock.
Then, assemble your frame with glue or tape and check the fit.
Finally, fit the filter material into the mask frame and attach it with glue around the edges.

Anything from simple tissues to pieces cut from HEPA filters can be used with the mask frame. When the mask has been used up, you can either remove and replace the filter, or cut an entirely new frame.

PLEASE NOTE: This is in not comparable with an N95 mask and should not be treated as such. This mask is designed less to protect the person wearing it, and more to protect the people around them.

.studio3 file
.svg file

Rubber Band Pop-ups

March 9, 2020
By Elaine Wolfe

Elaine Wolfe is a special guest editor. More information on her other projects can be found on her blog.

Rubber band pop-up polyhedrons are intriguing. They are the intersection of mathematics and physics. The process of compressing the figure stores energy in the rubber band inside the figure. When the collapsed two dimensional shape is allowed to be transformed back into a polyhedron, the stored energy makes the figure pop-up. These pop-ups are a fun way to explore mathematics and physics together.

Bifrustums and bicupolas are names given for different types of polyhedrons. For more information about them can be found here.

Materials Needed for this project:

  • 65 lb. card stock (This can be found at any craft shop.)
  • Aleene’s Tacky Glue. (This is a great quick-drying glue that doesn’t warp the paper when used sparingly.)
  • Glue Dots. (Use 3/8 inch Glue Dots rolled into balls and attached to the tail of the rubber band to keep the rubber band from slipping out of the hole with repeated opening and closing of the model.)
  • Scotch Tape to anchor the rubber band with the Glue Dot down to the tab.
  • 1/16 inch rubber bands. (Please note that different rubber bands may have different tensions. Lengths given here are an estimate.)
  • Scissors or an electronic paper cutter like a Silhouette or Cricut.


If you are cutting the models with scissors, here is the PDF.

If you are cutting the models with a Silhouette, here is the .Studio file.

If you are cutting the models with a Cricut, here is the SVG.

The Triangular Bifrustum

Notice in the photo above, the top half of the shape looks like a triangular pyramid without its top. A frustum is a section of an original solid. Since two of these sections are connected, this type of shape is referred to as a bifrustum, with “bi” meaning two.

In this post, we’ll be making a pop-up triangular Bifrustum. Instructions for additional shapes will be linked at the end of this post, and the techniques used here will apply to them as well.

Cut out the triangular bifrustum model and bend the tabs on each section as shown.

Cut and knot a rubber band with approximately 1 inch between the knots. Align the two sections as shown and glue the two pieces together.

Insert one end of the rubber band through the hole in the glued tab. Apply glue to the other folded edge with a round tab on it.

Press the two remaining round tabs together and press along the glued area to make sure the pieces adhere to one another.

Apply a Glue Dot to the tail of the rubber band, then cover both the Glue Dot and the tail with a piece of scotch tape.

Feed the other knotted end of the rubber band through the hole in the opposite round tab.

Repeat the process for gluing and taping on the the second tail of the rubber band.

Apply glue to the remaining tabs and press them together. Press the shape flat and apply pressure to adhere the glue.

After the glue has set, release the shape. The rubber band will pull the sides together, causing the shape to pop back up into a three dimensional object.

More Shapes:

For instructions on how to create additional shapes (as pictured at the beginning of this post), please refer to the document found here.