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When Dr. Ding Met Mr. Mom - A Quirky Tale of Innovation

Posted by Mike Acerra on

Picture this: It’s 2012 and you've got a bunch of homeschool families, right? They're all huddled up in this old Victorian house in Galesburg, Illinois, tinkering away on what they call "Project LUX." It's like a scene out of a quirky indie film – kids and parents everywhere, an odd thing called a 3D printer in the corner noisily and stinkily churning out prototypes around the clock of these brightly colored thingamajigs that look like a dragonfly had a rendezvous with a microchip. I mean, serious 1980's "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" vibes, folks.

In this cast of characters is a transplanted German family whose kids all talk to each other in German and are handling the AutoCAD work. Then there are the Acerras themselves. Their sons are running their own military-style youth orchestra when they're not studying Latin and Bible Greek and working on Project Lux. Poor Heather, the mom in this chaos, is working by day in the insurance industry and by night as a fellow toy designer. Mike is called "Mr. Mom" by his boys after they saw the film and had their life put into the context that – yeah – their life was different.

Now, enter Professor Adalbert Ding, this big-shot scientist from Berlin and friend of the German Missionaries, known for his work with stuff so small you can't even see it without one of those fancy microscopes or in his case, the biggest telescopes on the planet. This guy's into everything from solar lasers to nanotubes – I mean, the kind of stuff you need at least four PhDs to even pronounce correctly.

Now, imagine the scene. You've got kids running around with toy blocks, and there's six-foot-four Doctor Ding, towering over this whirlwind, getting a grand tour of the makeshift workshop in the Acerra’s Victorian dining room. Mike Acerra, the patriarch of this whole operation, introduces Ding to Project Lux – these little building blocks designed to mimic the structures found in nature. And Ding, he's fascinated. Why? Because it turns out these toys are like a kid's version of the molecular stuff he's been studying for decades.

So he dives right in, offering his two cents on everything from the design to the scientific accuracy of these toys. The Acerras are eating it up, scribbling down notes as this esteemed scientist from halfway across the world validates their entire project. And here's the kicker: over the next few months Doctor Ding's ideas start making their way into the project, morphing these simple toys into something that's got a hint of Berlin's high-tech labs.

Adalbert Ding is Professor at Institut für Technische Physik, Berlin and is involved in fullerene and nano tube research, photoionization of molecular and cluster beams, Solar lasers, and Solar astronomy.
Many of the children involved in Project Lux have gone on to start families of their own. Some are teachers. One became an engineer. And one is becoming a Catholic priest.

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