What do 3-D printers, laser cutters and sewing/embroidery machines have in common? As of Tuesday, they are all available for use inside the Carnegie Science Center’s Sportsworks building in the digital fabrication lab, or “fab lab.”
The new lab is a workshop and makerspace designed to advance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, human-centered design and collaborative projects, center co-director Ron Baillie said at its grand opening on Tuesday.
“From rapid prototyping machines to laser cutters and 3-D printers, students in the community will have access to top-notch equipment currently used by industry and universities,” said Nigel Hearne, vice president of Chevron Appalachian Michigan business utility. “And it’s right here in the Carnegie Science Center.”
Jason Brown, center director of science and education, said he marvels at the idea that kids will be able "to take the pictures of items that you have in your head and actually create them."
“If you have an invention idea or a solution to a problem, or you just want to try your hand at making it, it offers the opportunity to do that in a fun, low-cost way," he said.
The lab piloted small-scale programs throughout the summer, including teacher professional development opportunities and summer camps focused on 3-D and 2-D designing.
Liz Whitewolf, full-time fab lab technical and education manager, said children attending the pilot camps created greeting cards, press-fit cardboard and a replica of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house in Stewart Township all through the center's “tinkercad” computer program, printers and laser cutters.
The lab is available to museum-goers for an extra charge, but free after-hours offerings should be available soon, Brown said. The main issue is the lack of space, he said.
The lab was made possible by a portion of Chevron’s $10 million commitment to the Fab Foundation to build labs in areas where it operates across the U.S. It joins a global network of more than 500 fab labs operating in 30 countries worldwide.
“One of the most exciting things to me is to begin to think about what our young people will do as they begin to partner with young people in the other fab labs all over the world,” Baillie said. “When our kids start to work with teams in Finland and Israel and South Africa on common projects, the potential is unlimited.”
The partnership with Chevron helped fund a mobile lab counterpart as well.
“It is the first fab lab in the world actually to have both a mobile fab lab and a stationary fab lab,” said Sherry Lassiter, president of the Fab Lab Foundation. “To test this model of not only bringing people in, but reaching out to other communities.”
Ideally, Lassiter said the mobile lab will travel to areas and schools that might be unable to come to the center, maybe due to transportation costs.