Update on Melodica Sound Chamber project

Great to get an update on Connell’s project. https://connellmcbride.com/2022/08/01/melodica-case-design/

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‘I’ve got an idea’ fund reopens

As of today (01/08/2022), our idea fund is open again for applications.

Last award – Fibe Team – Creating textiles from potato harvest waste

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Melodicas & Potatoes – 2 new Idea Fund Awards

We are delighted to announce our latest two ‘I’ve got an idea Fund’ awards for individuals and small organisations who have a technical idea that they want to test out to see if they can make it work.

Fibe – Creating textiles from potato harvest waste

Fibe consists of 5 Design Engineering students at Imperial College London who are keen to create more sustainable textiles.

The leafy plant that grows above the potato contributes to 5 million tonnes of non-compostable waste each year. Fibe’s plan is to collect this abundant and cheap waste stream from farmers and convert it to textiles. Their research assesses their fibres would use 99% less water, 92% less energy and 90% less land than cotton all while promoting food farming. The resulting textile is recyclable and biodegradable whilst also having excellent physical properties of softness, durability, washability and potentially being antimicrobial.

Fibe Team

Having run successful lab experiments creating workable fibres, the award will enable the team to fund a scaled trial this summer involving 5 potato farms and the use (thanks to Leeds University) of industrial spinning and weaving machines to test the scalability of Fibe’s process and produce the first high quality textile sample.

Connell McBride – Improving Melodica sound quality & design.

When not working as a lawyer in Northern Ireland, Connell McBride is passionate about increasing access to keyboard music education, particularly for young people disadvantaged economically or through disability.

Connell currently teaches using melodicas (small wind powered keyboards) because they are affordable (~ £20.00), easy to learn, portable and musically very expressive. Students can naturally progress to piano accordion, piano, keyboard, pipe organ and of course computer music via midi keyboard controllers.

Connell’s Melodica Class in Armagh

In seeking to increase the street cred and profile of the melodica, one significant drawback is that melodicas can sound a bit nasal and they look a bit toy like. So, Connell’s idea is to design a sound chamber that can be fitted to a cheap melodica which will improve the quality of its sound by muting the more nasal sounding frequencies. He plans to use materials such as wood or carbon fibre which will also augment the visual appeal of the instrument. The goal will be to improve the sound and look of a standardly priced melodica to create more attractive musical output and appearance but wthout greatly inflating the purchase price for young people.

Connell is teaming up with a carpenter friend who builds ukeleles and a local dentist whose 3D imaging equipment can help with prototype modelling for successive design experiments and testing. And it looks like there will be plenty of enthusiastic youngsters around to help try the prototypes out. The Idea Fund award will cover the cost of all the bits of kit and raw materials required for the experimental stage of the project.


In celebration of the Idea Fund’s never ending diversity of ideas, maybe one day I will stand, dressed in a potato leaf fibre dress, playing Irish folk tunes on a delightfully non-nasal sounding melodica.

The ‘I’ve got an Idea Fund’ is currently closed and will reopen for applications on 1st August 2022.

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Just started a mini natural regeneration experiment

I’ve written up here the motivation and why it interests me as an experimental psychologist. Watch this space if you are going to be around for the next 50 years or so!

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Idea Fund Award – geometric expandable structures

We are delighted to announce an ‘I’ve got an Idea’ Fund award to Isle of Arran resident, Alistair Reid for his idea of geometry inspired, expandable structures for temporary packable accommodation.

Alistair has been experimenting with different geometric structures which could be quickly and easily transformed from a default state as a box or shipping crate to form robust, temporary accommodation for seasonal workers on an island where there is a severe shortage of affordable housing. More generally, although in emergencies and natural disaster responses, tents can provide useful, very fast shelter, there is a need for more robust and secure facilities.

Having explored different platonic solid structures, the Idea Fund award will enable Alistair to purchase the laser cutter he needs to construct larger prototypes which test whether his ideas will work on ever more realistic scales.

He will add the laser cutter to the 3D printers, hand tools and electronics available via a ‘makerspace‘ which Alistair is setting up on the island for access by local school kids, hobbyists and the creative community.

We wish Alistair well in creating and testing his interesting ideas at the next scale up and look forward to hearing about his experiences along the way.

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Early Hate Mail

Whilst working in y Gaer (Brecon Museum) recently, one of my colleagues encountered this startling exhibit of early hate mail. As the UK Government seeks to introduce the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to limit disruptive protest, I found it an interesting moment of reflection on how the suffragettes were viewed by society, let alone how they were punished by the authorities for their actions. Radical change will always disrupt something and it won’t be comfortable.

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Domestic Heat Trial in Rural Wales

I have just completed a report on a small domestic heating trial (12 households) which we ran here in rural Wales during January and February. Our aim was to explore a way that households could reduce the energy consumption of oil or LPG powered central heating and improve occupants’ thermal comfort by introducing simple, supplementary, conductive and radiant IR ‘spot heating’ devices which focus on heating people rather than space. The experiment affected both behaviour and thinking and shed new light on what it means to keep warm. The results point to possible techniques for reducing household energy whilst improving thermal comfort – particularly in older, poorly insulated housing which is unlikely to be adequately fixed for some while.

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What do portraits say?

Great project with Larks and Ravens working with Brecon Beacons College students creating alternative stories and portraits in response to the historical figures which dominate the Victorian Courtroom at y Gaer Museum in Brecon. Exhibition open to the public from March 24th until April 5th.

We find the Courtroom a rich space of symbols of power, justice, equality and patriarchy which are interesting for artists (and this irrational psychologist!) to explore and challenge.

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Not all experiments work….

10 years ago today – experimenting with a different form of lightweight local travel. Decided, on encountering the first hill that it needed battery assist and a better weighted front wheel or it alarmingly came off the ground on any slope or fast turn. But we survived and had a lot of fun.

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Latest ‘I’ve got an Idea’ Fund Award – Pigfoot Theatre

We are delighted to announce our first award of 2022 to the Pigfoot Theatre team for their energy-harvesting dancefloor project which will convert performers’ live footsteps into electricity to power their shows’ lighting.

Pigfoot Theatre is a carbon-neutral theatre company, dedicated to making collaborative, sustainable theatre about the climate & ecological crisis.

Their idea is to build an energy-harvesting dancefloor made up of tiles which convert performers’ live footsteps into electricity to power their shows’ lighting. The floor will generate
more power than the bicycle powered-generators (which they have been using) for less physical effort (a footstep, rather than pedaling). A small number of such dance floors exist but are very expensive to hire. Pigfoot’s goal is to create a set up which is highly modular and can be easily transported and installed without the cost of involving specialist technicians. This means other small theatres like theirs could afford to hire and use the tiles.

The idea of using a dancefloor to generate power echoes the main message of Pigfoot’s work. As Bea, their Director, explains “One person moving or dancing generates a small amount of energy, while a group of people moving together generates so much more. In much the same way, individual actions have a small impact in reducing carbon emissions, but collective action – or many people taking the same action – can create a significant, tangible shift in how our society

Pigfoot team engineer, Jack, has so far created 3 prototype tiles with incorporated battery storage which they have tested successfully in one performance. They now want to experiment whether they can innovate a more efficient method of energy generation.

Pigfoot has already started developing one show, HOT IN HERE (a carbon-neutral dance-party), which will use the dancefloor. This show will hopefully tour in Autumn 2022, meaning that the dancefloor would be shared with over 4,000+ public audiences and participants in 12 localities across England and Wales.

We really liked Pigfoot’s idea and their team’s experimental approach to developing and testing ways of realising it fits the spirit of our fund. We look forward to a chance to experience dancing on their tiles at some point.

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