Art without engineering is dreaming;
Engineering without art is calculating.

Steven K. Roberts, N4RVE

1964 Science Fair Project – The Computer Plus

I have often joked over the years that I never outgrew science fairs… showing off the various technomadic machines at trade shows and other events was eerily reminiscent of those early years, complete with passion, demo effects, marketing, and procrastination followed by despair. I credit science fairs with giving me a lifelong project-oriented perspective, and in the intellectual wasteland of school they were the only thing that kept me sane. This one was my second project, and of course we can see that “computer” is a bit of a misnomer for a simple binary decision tree of relay logic (augmented by cascading relaxation-oscillator blinkies with the venerable NE-2, and a few other bits of eye candy). But I was honing my packaging skills… good times.

(I have three of those science-fair winner blazer patches for sale.)

Winner on 2 Fronts

Jeffersonian – March 26, 1964
Jeffersontown, Kentucky

AN ELECTRONIC computer which he designed and built and his demonstration of the device has won two recent honors for Steve Roberts, 11-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward H. Roberts, 9908 Old Six Mile Lane, Jeffersontown. Steve, a seventh grader at Louisville Country Day School, took top honors in last Wednesday’s Science Fair at the school for seventh graders, and fourth place honors in general science category of the Louisville Area High School Science Show Saturday at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. He is a member of the Jeffersontown Junior Optimist Electronics Club.


And this was from the previous year, 1963, in 5th Grade (I skipped 6th). That is an AC induction magnet with concentric fields 90° out of phase, allowing it to pick up low-resistance metals (copper, aluminum, silver, and gold) by inducing eddy currents. The box under my arm is a big capacitor bank, and the magnet uses harvested transformer laminations and a lot of helically-wound enameled wire.


This was not my design… I read about the concept in an electronics magazine… but it was seriously fun to build. I immediately got addicted to science fairs, which were the only school-related things that held my attention from then until graduation.