Interview: Chris Boden of The Geek Group

the geek group hackerspaceHere at Initial State HQ, we’re always looking out for quality individuals, organizations, articles and trends. We recently received an email from Chris Boden, president of The Geek Group, the world’s largest Makerspace / Hackerspace non-profit. Here’s an excerpt from the email:

My name is Chris Boden, I work for The Geek Group as a High Voltage/High Energy Physicist. That’s a five-dollar way of saying “If you see me running, try to catch up”.

I have come to realize that my typical day is a bit, well, off the rails insane for the average person and I thought you guys might perhaps get a kick out of it. My average day at work consists of various combinations of the following.

Giant robots, lasers, explosions, power generators up to 2.4 Million volts (that will throw a 20-foot arc across the room), Impulse generators up to 1.8 Billion Watts (at about 300,000 Amps), rockets, 3D printers, and god knows how many computers to make it all work together.

Needless to say, we reached back out to see what Chris and his team are up to. Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to answer our questions!

1. What is The Geek Group?

The Geek Group is the largest (and possibly the oldest) nonprofit Makerspace/Hackerspace in the world. Founded in June of 1994, the Geek Group’s mission is to provide access to science, technology, engineering and math by developing programming and facilities for individuals and institutions to learn, explore, innovate and play at an independent pace according to their needs.

To accomplish this mission, the Geek Group has developed a 43,000 square foot headquarters that contains state of the art labs and workshops to include a machine shop, wood shop, vehicular sciences lab, robotics lab, audio/visual studio, rapid prototyping lab, arts studio, chemistry lab, laser lab, high voltage lab, high energy physics lab, and computer lab. Over the past 20 years, the Geek Group has grown to be a worldwide organization with over 25,000 members in over 140 countries, two established chapters (Springfield, MA and Seattle, WA), and several informal chapters around the globe.

2. What is your role at The Geek Group?

President/Founder/Head Janitor

3. When you think of Maker culture, what are the biggest challenges that Makers face right now?

The side of our culture that views makerspaces as a for-profit business is the largest challenge facing the maker movement. Beware of people getting into education with profit as their primary goal. I’m not saying that profit is a dirty word, and I’m all for Capitalism. However, if you look closely at the people and the corporations running some of these spaces, it becomes pretty clear that some don’t have the community’s best interests at heart. This is why you see spaces charging $200/month and higher. The maker movement is supposed to be about lowering the barriers of access to people, not creating a rich-kid’s club.

4. Can you rattle off 2-3 of your favorite Maker projects or ideas you’ve recently seen?

Hackaday has featured some really incredible work lately, check them out. The ingenuity of the maker community never fails to impress me. At the Geek Group, our membership is working on a rather large Marx Generator. This will be the second Marx bank completed at the Geek Group. The first was called Project Groucho and outputted 100kV. The next one will be substantially bigger and will be highlighted in an upcoming video and be on public display in a few months.

A member of The Geek Group of Western Massachusetts built an LED-lit guitar to replicate the original guitar the member originally made for Ace Frehleyof of KISS. I haven’t seen it yet but it sounds really cool. We also have a member from California who invented the Pixel Pusher, it’s a strip of LEDs that can be controlled independently over the internet. We use it in the lab as an electronics demonstration and it always is popular with our visitors.

5. I want to learn more about the Maker movement. What websites, videos, articles should I check out?

Everything!

Start with Hackaday, they’re a solid resource with new content every day. I would also check out the Geek Group website which contains a lot of information. There is also the Geek Group YouTube channel or my personal YouTube channel which contains my daily blog of the behind the scenes of the lab. Finally, I would encourage you to go on the Geek Group IRC channel anytime 24/7 and ask questions. There is a lot of knowledge and experience within the Geek Group membership base.

Don’t take my word for it, I’m only one small part in a massive (and quickly growing) community. Making, science, and engineering are all about exploration.

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