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Union Employee Creates a Working Lightboard in his Free Time


UW Senior Duncan Adams stands next to his homemade lighting console.

Programming the lights and sound for a show is no easy task, but for UW Senior Duncan Adams (Class of 2016) it’s all part of the fun. As a student supervisor of the Sound and Lighting Technicians (SLT) of the Union, Adams makes sure the lighting and sound for Union shows run smoothly, all while working alongside his team of fellow students. Together, they ensure that the technical aspects of shows at Varsity Hall, The Sett, and practically every Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) show run according to plan.   

When WUD, the student programming board that organizes events on campus, prepares for each of their concerts and lectures, SLT are the masters behind the curtain. It takes a small group of dedicated students and supervisors for each show to program the lighting and sound to provide the ultimate audiovisual experience for Union patrons.   

Every light show needs an interface to control the lights, and for Adams, the Union’s light board didn’t quite fit his needs. “Our Union board is great, but we needed one that was a lot more reactive. More sliders, more knobs more buttons. When the beat drops, you have to hit it, you can’t be a second late.” For most students, the game plan would be to save up enough of the annual budget to purchase a system that better fit their needs.

Adams, however, took it upon himself to build a light board in his spare time over the course of a single week. He explained, “The whole project took about 30 hours…I built it for fun because I wanted to. I do some freelance stuff on the side and I needed something to control my lights.” Whereas a typical light board can cost upwards of 1,000 dollars, Adams combined the knowledge he’s gained as a Mechanical Engineering major with stock computer parts to build the same product for a fraction of the price. 


Adams hooked up a Dell monitor to a series of switches, buttons and knobs for his console.

The board looks like it was built more for heavy-duty lighting operations than fun. A wooden cabinet holds a Dell computer monitor connected to a keyboard mainly used for retail Point of Sale software. Adams was able to program whatever functions he required into the vast array of buttons.

The board has become integral to the running of Union events.  “We use it in almost every single one of our shows,” Adams stated.

Adams is a student supervisor, which puts him in a position to simultaneously lead and work alongside fellow students. “It’s a combination of being part of the rest of the staff and supervising the staff. I make sure everyone’s doing the job right and I make the diagrams, but we’re all pretty much equal.”

Adams would love to work for a lighting company, but the young engineer has other projects on his plate.  He’s currently working alongside other UW-Madison Engineering students to develop a working model of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop project, a system that could revolutionize public transit.  

But while he’s not busy shaping the future, Adams can be spotted happily setting up his light board all around campus. “I don’t want to be freelancing full time, but it’s certainly a lot of fun.”

Despite having crafted a massive lighting board in his own free time, Adams stays remarkably humble when describing his achievement. Utilizing a fittingly mechanical metaphor, Adams stated that his team is simply doing their part to make the wheels of the Union turn: “We’re just part of one cog in a very large machine.”

Author: Jake Witz

Jake Witz is a UW-Madison sophomore double majoring in English and Computer Science. You can catch him watching his favorite bands perform at the Rath or if you squint really hard you can spot him kayaking on Lake Mendota.

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