No sooner do you buy the latest technology “must-have” does the coveted item becomes obsolete… yesterday’s news. If you are Ed Bear, you have an entirely different mindset. Yesterday’s technological news is Ed’s playground. 

Ed Bear believes that outdated technology—e-waste, as it is known—has many reincarnations. His interest in e-waste morphed out of his avocation as a musician. He began tinkering with audio electronics and making recordings of analog video experiments that he crafted from old gear he got for free. His interest in formal engineering grew directly from his exposure to the significant complexity of analog video systems and a new awareness of the environmental impact of electronics when they become obsolete

“Good science and common sense suggests that the most efficient way to recover materials is to give new uses to obsolete items,”

— Ed Bear

Funded by New York University’s Green Grants, which supports environmental literacy, applied research and community engagement, Bear performed an audit of e-waste at NYU-Poly during the fall of 2010 and developed a series of workshops to teach how excess items—routers, monitors, printers and such—can enjoy a second life as a totally different object.

“Good science and common sense suggests that the most efficient way to recover materials is to give new uses to obsolete items,” says Bear. “What sense does it make to create objects with only one use when second, third and fourth lives can be designed from the start?
In no field can this type of thinking have more revolutionary applications than in the production of consumer electronics.”

The TERRE workshops (Technical Education Reusing and Repurposing E-waste)—five in all—took place last year and gave the attendees hands-on learning in the creation of new objects from discarded ones. “The fundamental goal is to connect the abstract concepts that students learn in class with real physical objects,” says Bear. “The psychological impact of seeing an equation or process embodied as a ‘real’ consumer object is not trivial.”

The workshops got good reviews and Ed plans to take TERRE on the road next spring to the universities and organizations around the country. Daniel Bourbeau ’11ME found the sessions informative and thinks they could become part of an existing course. “I would recommend the workshop because of its practical application and hands-on approach,” says Bourbeau. “The workshop could be integrated into an intro or intermediate electrical engineering class. Students will have a better understanding of the selection and use of various components and will have the opportunity to be creative. Perhaps the best approach is to spread the sessions over several semesters as an ongoing project.”