#SoCaltech: Emily Velasco


“I'm always building stuff out of things I find. I've been dumpster diving for so long. When I was a teenager, commodities like metal were still cheap, so people just threw stuff like that away. If you drove around on trash day, there'd be all kinds of weird stuff just sitting out on the curb, and I'd bring these things home and take them apart. Now, I look for free things on Craigslist or Caltech Marketplace. And, of course, there's Caltech's e-waste. I have this obsession with going to look all the time to see what's there. A lot of times there's nothing, but sometimes it's like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is this thing? This is the coolest thing ever!’ Like a seismometer from the 1960s or ’70s. Someone on Instagram described my style as cyber-witch-punk. I like making kinetic art, so when I found these two bird skulls among some driftwood on a beach in Northern California, I wanted to do something with them to make them move. I hooked up a proximity detector and an Arduino controlling a pair of servos. It uses pulses of infrared light to detect what’s near, and if it ‘sees’ something, like if you put your hand in front of it, the birds come to life. I really just like to share my stuff with people and see how they react. I like to see them get excited.”

Emily Velasco is a science writer in Caltech’s Office of Strategic Communications.

#SoCaltech is an occasional series celebrating the diverse individuals who give Caltech its spirit of excellence, ambition, and ingenuity. Know someone we should profile? Send nominations to magazine@caltech.edu