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Dreamers turned doers gather at Maker Faire

Ryan Gray of Reston, Virginia, built a “paleobot” that can classify fossils. Here, he is testing the paleobot's ability to identify fossilized shark teeth. Ryan will demonstrate his invention at Maker Faire NoVa in Reston on March 19. (Photos by Ann Cameron Siegal)

Do you ever think, “What makes that work?” Curiosity prompted Heidy Umanzor, 11, to take apart a battery-operated alarm clock.

“It looked simple when I first opened the back up, but then I found lots of wires and gears,” said Heidy, who is from Mount Vernon, Virginia. After figuring out which controlled the clock’s hands and alarm, Heidy said, she “wanted to learn how they put all those itty-bitty gears together.”

If that sounds like you, consider visiting a Maker Faire. A “maker” is anyone who designs and produces something. Maybe it’s for art, a hobby or a business. Many makers began by taking things apart, studying the pieces, then trying to put them back together.

Maker Faires are family-friendly, learn-through-doing events with lots of hands-on activities. Build a tower out of spaghetti, learn about drones and robots, and discover magic with magnets. Find answers to your “How?” questions, and use tools in the “take-apart” zone.

The fourth annual Maker Faire NoVa in Reston on March 19 will feature more than 120 makers of all ages showing off their creations. Let’s meet three of them.

When Alana Hogarty of Reston was 8, she discovered the hands-on creative opportunities available at nearby Nova Labs — the nonprofit, all-volunteer maker space that produces Maker Faire NoVa. With adult supervision and guidance, Alana, who is now 10, designed an acrylic "gear heart" pendant with gears that the wearer can turn, then created it using a laser cutter.

Alana is also learning the art of soldering (pronounced SAH-der-ing) — permanently joining two pieces of metal — often used when making jewelry or electronics.

Alana’s goal: “I want to be a plastic surgeon.”

Years ago, Ryan Gray found a rock with strange circles and lines in it. After learning it was a crinoid — the exoskeleton of an extinct sea creature — the Reston boy was hooked on paleontology (the study of fossils).

Combining that passion and his love of robotics, Ryan, now 12, created a “paleobot,” his own fossil finder made from gears, metal and plastic. Passing over an object, a paleobot’s camera determines whether it’s a fossil by using data from photos and descriptions Ryan programmed into his invention. A paleobot’s electronic neural network works similarly to the human brain, making connections to identify what it finds. If it sees a fossil it recognizes, it will say the name.

Ryan’s goal: “I would like to find something no one has found before.”

Alec Agayan of Herndon saw his first 3-D printer during a science camp. “I was fascinated by how plastic could be melted down to make anything you want,” he said.

So Alec created one using Lego pieces, gears and his knowledge of programming. Like many young makers, he enjoys technology­oriented camps. He created a coin-operated candy machine out of Lego pieces and a Lego safe that was key-card- and password-protected.

The 12-year-old said he wants to learn to make some parts needed for an upcoming science class project: building a small home generator that can run a refrigerator and stove during a power outage.

Alec’s wish: “I would like to help kids achieve their goals and dreams to build whatever they want.”

Alec also had a piece of advice for other would-be makers: Whether you make something simple or complicated, “if you start with an idea but think it is impossible, just try it,” he said. “And have patience.”

If you go

What: Maker Faire NoVa

Where: South Lakes High School, 11400 South Lakes Drive, Reston, Virginia. (Only disability parking at site; free parking and shuttle from Wiehle-Reston East Metro station.)

When: March 19, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How much: Adults $15, ages 2 to 18 $5, seniors $12. Discounted tickets online.

Fees cover most activities.

For more information: A parent can call 703-437-5780 or visit If you can't make this one, check out the Maker Faire in Silver Spring, Maryland, in September (