The fun of electronics and the bomb scare that never was

I had a couple of 1st year students (apparently from the music department) come in to my shop a few weeks ago seeking advice on soldering some parts together to make a “pocket theremin” kit — a noise maker that is light sensitive.

Neither of them had much, if any experience in electronics or soldering things together. Their bag of parts included two integrated circuits, resistors, capacitors, a speaker, some light sensitive cells and a battery. They were missing several bits of modern electronics to hold it all together – a circuit board.

I gave them a primer on soldering and electronics and we all mutually decided that it would be in our best interest for me to assemble the circuit quickly using some modern technology. Which I did. I assembled the circuit successfully (and threw in a electronic engineering development circuit board) and much to my delight, it worked like a charm. In the dark, the little unit was completely quiet. As it was exposed to light it would squeal like a demon.

The gals reappeared within a few hours and checked out my creation.

They were delighted. Smiles and squeals all around, the gals vanished with the device (ostensibly for a project in their department…) and that was the last I heard of it. I never even got their name but I did leave them with a couple of personal cards if they needed any additional assistance – and I put the circuit in a cute little box… that had my shipping info on it.

The following Monday I got a call from a senior student in the music department that found the device outdoors near an entrance to one of the University buildings. Look at the video. It could have been mistaken for a small bomb – but it was not. The box that had the device in it I had provided for the circuit. It has some contact info on it – my contact info. Ironically, I recognized the University student who discovered the device and brought it to my attention. His 5 minutes of fame were from a recent viral hoax he and a friend had created. This whole thing started to smell like a fish market on a summers day.

I can just imagine a panicked call to campus security and the bomb squad – which was averted because a smart student found it first. Police. Bomb squad. Media. Yikes! Not good.

Moral of the story – be more careful about who you build and hand out electronic circuits out to. They seemed like good kids – and maybe the project was completed and they were discarding the product. Maybe they were trying to scare some friends. Maybe they wanted to create a viral video and everything went haywire. Who knows.

This was a perfect example of a University bomb scare that never happened because of some common sense responses from sensible people or foolish curiosity of a student or two. Still, I learned a lesson about giving out advice and technology that could potentially be misused.

Lesson learned.