5 Questions for a Scientist: Educational Technology Inventor Jie Qi

The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.

Get to know Jie

Occupation: Educational Technology Inventor
Institution: MIT
Field: Media Arts and Sciences
Focus: Educational Technology

Jie is an inventor of educational technology and the co-founder of Chibitronics, which combines paper craft and electronics in fun ways. Her goal is to encourage people to learn how to enhance traditional paper arts and crafts techniques (such as drawing, cardmaking, and bookmaking) with functional circuitry (made with conductive tape and circuit components combined into a new medium called circuit stickers) to create interactive works of art. Jie lives in Cambridge, Mass., where she is a Ph.D. candidate in media arts and sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, in the Responsive Environments Group. She will be pursuing a post-doc in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group. You can watch her share her dissertation, Paper Curiosities: Circuits on Paper for Learning and Expression, in this video. She loves exploring new places, reading fun stories, and making things, especially tiny cute things, and sharing them with friends. To learn more about Jie or ask her questions, you can connect with her via Linkedin or Twitter.

1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).
I research and invent new ways to make electronics using arts and craft materials like using conductive tapes and electronic stickers. Circuits and programming let us bring our projects to life! My hope is that one day everyone will be able to have fun making their own, unique technologies to express themselves.

2. When did you first become interested in your field?
 I've always loved arts and crafts since I could remember. I think it started with an obsession with origami. Then I got interested in building moving sculptures in high school. There is an artist named Alexander Calder who builds these amazing moving sculptures of circus characters out of simple pieces of wire. It really blew me away to see something so complex made out of such a simple material! This got me really interested in engineering, which I studied in college. I really got excited about electronics in college when I first started experimenting with electronics and paper. As for programming, I took a programming class in high school but had such a difficult time with it that I thought it wasn't for me. But when I started programming circuits in my projects later on in college, I fell in love with what code can do and now I really enjoy it! Finally, since starting graduate school as a Ph.D. student, I've gotten really excited about sharing the beauty and fun of making electronics, which is why I'm currently focused in education and teaching.

3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?
I absolutely love getting to constantly learn new skills and ideas as part of doing research. It's really exciting to read and share the latest ideas and discoveries with a bunch of others who also love to geek out about the things I care about. I also really enjoy getting to constantly design and invent new things. It really feels like a playground sometimes!

4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?
It's hard to say since they're all so different! Sometimes I'll go to the lab and spend a day (and sometimes into the night) working on a new project like soldering together a circuit or programming an interactive storybook. Other days I might be at the library buried in books to learn ideas, techniques, and get inspired. I also teach a lot of workshops—to share and get feedback on the tools I'm working on.

5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?
I say go for it! Try making something out of it, or about it, so that it becomes your own. I found that was what motivated me, and many others, to persist even when some things were challenging or frustrating. Also, if you find something interesting, learn about it and share. Chances are there are whole communities of people out there who are just as excited as you are and they'll be excited to share with you too!


All photos courtesy of Jie Qi. Used with permission.



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