Girls Who Build Cameras

Photos Jon Barron courtesy MIT
Photos Jon Barron courtesy MIT

If you thought that when you signed up for a photography course at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, you’d be learning about composition and exposure — you thought wrong.

Instead of learning about lighting and framing a photo, 40 high school girls on June 4 learned how to build their own camera and how to write code for Instagram-like filters.

This special one-day workshop was organized and run by MIT Lincoln Laboratory researchers at Beaver Works and got the girls to building a Raspberry Pi camera and to program creative filters for the camera. Raspberry Pi is a number of affordable credit card-sized single-board computers that can be programmed for almost any application (limited by the amount of memory available). Using the Processing programming language, the girls wrote code to flip an image, use time lapse, create a vignette, tint the photo, or single out one color from the image.

Kristen Railey, the founder of a series of workshops called Girls Who Build (with the goal of getting more girls interested in engineering), organized the event with more than 40 volunteers from Lincoln Laboratory, MIT, and various companies around Massachusetts. Earlier in January, she ran another workshop, titled Girls Who Build: Make Your Own Wearables Workshop, which is now available free on the MIT Open CourseWare.

Why cameras and filters?

According to Railey, cameras require versatile engineering including optics, computer science, and mechanics. In participating in this workshop, the students could learn which field of engineering they may be most interested in pursuing. Before the workshop, half of the girls had never programmed before, and after, 90 percent said they wanted to continue learning to code.

The Girls Who Build Cameras curriculum will soon be published on MIT Open CourseWare for educators and students everywhere.