Stemiverse 0004 – Chris Johnson & Keith Burston: The art and engineering of Meccano 

 June 27, 2017

By  Peter

In this episode, Dr. Peter Dalmaris and Marcus Schappi talk with Chris Johnson and Keith Burston.

Both Chris and Keith are retired academics with love for technology and education. They have teamed up to create large constructions using Meccano blocks and Arduino-powered electronics. They take this hobby seriously, as you will hear later on.

In this conversation, Chris and Keith discuss their Meccano crane and explain how it represents a great way to introduce children to engineering and programming. Among other things, we also discuss the Differential Analyser, robotics, artificial intelligence and conversation bots, and the dangers of abstraction in education.

This is Stemiverse Podcast episode 4.


Stemiverse podcast is brought to you by Tech Explorations, a leading provider of educational resources for Makers, STEM students, and teachers. Go to to see a complete list of our books and courses covering the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and electronics.

Show Notes

  • [00:00] Introduction – Introducing Chris Johnson and Keith Burston
  • [01:20] Chris’s background: IT Academia, Meccano and Research in Robots and AI
  • [02:36] Chris describes Meccano toys
  • [05:03] Keith’s occupation with Meccano and Electronics
  • [05:32] Keith’s background: Academia, industry research with Telstra, Communications, Project Management and Teaching
  • [06:39] Keith’s current occupation with Meccano
  • [08:08] The Meccano Differential Analyzer
  • [11:21] Meccano advantages: “becomes intuitive” and promotes creativity
  • [12:55] Using Lego in teaching
  • [14:07] Chris’s Researching Interest in AI includes Robotics, how to program autonomous thinking and the Turing machine
  • [17:07] Chris’s choice of Programming Language for AI: Visual Basic
  • [19:03] Keith and Chris’s current mentoring activities
  • [20:54] Keith built his first robot with Meccano when he was a schoolboy
  • [23:02] Future predictions: Becoming further and further abstractive and the dangers of only teaching the top levels
  • [33:27] Disappearing knowledge after 25 years when the Baby Boomers are gone
  • [35:28] Teaching STEM as the responsibility to teach people how to build things from scratch (which “enhances creativity”)
  • [37:28] How would you structure the teaching of technology: Get input from the students
  • [39:46] Rapid Fire Questions
  • [39:58] Book Recommendations: Subscription to New Scientist magazine, Longitude, by Dava Sobel, The Victorian Internet, by Tom Standage
  • [45:18] Favorite Programming Languages: (Keith) C++ (Chris) COBOL, Pascal, Visual Basic, C#


Peter Dalmaris is an educator, electrical engineer, electronics hobbyist, and Maker. Creator of online video courses on DIY electronics and author of three technical books, and has recently released his book Maker Education Revolution.   As a Chief Tech Explorer since 2013 at Tech Explorations, the company he founded in Sydney, Australia, Peter’s mission is to explore technology and help educate the world.  Tech Explorations offers educational courses and Bootcamps for electronics hobbyists, STEM students and STEM teachers. A life-long learner, Peter’s core skill is in explaining difficult concepts through video and text. With over 15 years of tertiary teaching experience, Peter has developed a simple yet comprehensive style in teaching that students from all around the world appreciate.  His passion for technology and in particular for the world of DIY open source hardware has been a dominant driver that has guided his personal development and his work through Tech Explorations. Peter’s current online courses have helped over 60,000 people from around the world to be better Makers. 

Peter Dalmaris

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