Expanded makerspaces at SICE provide opportunities for development
There’s no better experience than hands-on experience, and the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering is making sure its students have every opportunity to learn by doing.
SICE is the home to five fabrication and prototype labs, dedicated makerspaces filled with the latest technology that allows students to bring their ideas to life. Among the labs are a fabrication lab dedicated to the intelligent systems engineering program, and an exclusive space in the SICE Living Learning Center that allows students to work on projects near their residence.
For Christian McKay, the director of SICE makerspaces, the labs are spaces where students can get an idea on how products come about and some of the challenges that exist in production.
“I see these spaces as being fundamentally educational spaces,” McKay says. “We’re allowing people to get their hands on the machines and learn how to basically make the objects that have become kind of a mystery to us, and we want to tie that back to what students are learning in the context of computer science, engineering, and informatics.”
Both prototyping labs opened earlier this year. Protolab I is a 750 square-foot space located on the first floor of the Informatics East building and includes both the prototyping lab and a classroom. The prototyping lab features a laser cutter, 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, and other prototyping equipment, as well as a range of hand and power tools, equipment for electronics assembly and testing, and a library of hardware and software platforms, such as Arduino and Lilypad Arduinos. The space is a converted lobby and repurposes a fireplace to ventilate the area.
“We may have the only baroque makerspace in the country,” McKay jokes.
Protolab II is located at nearby Luddy Hall and consists of two 350-square-foot shops, one for woodworking and the other for metal working. The woodworking side offers a table saw, a band saw, a drill press, a compound miter saw, a small CNC router, and hand tools. The metal shop features a Tormach 440 CNC mill, a CNC plasma cutter, a welding station, a drill press, a cutoff saw, a grinder, and hand tools.
The SICE Protolabs are run by technicians who train students to use the varying equipment to ensure safety.
“Although it’s an open space, you can’t just breeze in and work,” McKay says. “You have to be trained so you know what you’re doing. The idea is to start educating students on the safe use of the machines and tools.”
The fourth floor of Luddy Hall is home to the 3,000-square-foot ISE Fab Lab, a digital inquiry and fabrication space. Like Protolab I, the Fab Lab is split into two spaces, one for fabrication and a classroom. The class space features room for 36 students at four-foot by eight-foot tables as well as design stations that include computer-aided design programs such as Fusion 360 or Solid Works. The fabrication space offers a large-format laser cutter, a small format CNC water jet cutter, a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printer, a Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printer, and equipment for electronics building and testing.
The SICE LLC makerspace, located on the first floor of the Teter Quadrangle Residence Hall, provides students the opportunity to continue their prototyping activities within a dorm setting and is outfitted with a laser cutter, a small bank of FDM 3D printers, hand tools, and electronics assembly equipment.
“Students in the LLC have access to that area, and some classes are being taught in the space as well,” McKay says. “It’s a great space because it brings the lab so close to the comforts of home.”
The intelligent systems engineering program also is building facilities at the Multidisciplinary Engineering and Sciences Hall (MESH), which includes research labs and a digital fabrication space to support research efforts of ISE faculty and graduate students.
“It has been great to see the various kinds of projects that students are working on,” McKay says. “Students are milling drone frames and 3D printing motor mounts and soldering the circuit boards. They’re designing speaker components in Fusion 360, and they’re using the laser cutter to form the boxes. Some are working with Arduinos and designing sensors to collect data in the environment. It’s really exciting to see what the students bring to life.”
The labs have allowed students in computer science, informatics, and ISE to use the lessons learned in the classroom in a real-world situation, and students in SICE’s Information and Library Science program also benefit from the makerspaces. With libraries and museums becoming more interactive, makerspaces are starting to merge with those traditional institutions, and the SICE makerspaces are preparing students for what they may find in their career.
For Travis Brown, SICE’s assistant dean for innovation, entrepreneurship, & commercialization, the school’s makerspaces provide an opportunity for students to build an understanding of some of the challenges they may face when imagining a product.
“So much is learned by realizing the restraints of the materials with which you’re working, things that can’t be learned just be sketching something when you’re conceptualizing,” Brown says. “The makerspaces afford students in my technology innovation class and entrepreneurs on campus the opportunity to get their hands dirty and better understand the real-world issues they may face.”
Both Brown and McKay encourage students to explore the makerspaces even if they don’t have a vision for a final product in mind.
“Students learn so much through making,” Brown says. “They don’t need a flushed-out, perfect idea of what they’re going to build. That’s what prototyping is all about. There’s a mental barrier to be overcome for students who think they can only go in there once they have a finished product in mind. A lot of the learning comes as you’re making.”
Andrew Lillie, a senior in informatics, loves having access to cutting-edge technology.
“If there’s anything we see online and want to try ourselves, we have the opportunity to use technology creatively,” Lillie said. “It’s really cool, and working in these makerspaces will give me experience with 3D printing and laser cutter. It will make me stand out.”
Xun He, a second-year graduate student in human-computer interaction, is a technician in Protolab I, and she enjoys learning how to use the equipment while teaching others.
“I’m very interested in this kind of equipment,” He said. “I’ll be using these types of machines for my capstone project. I’m learning about as many machines as possible, and these labs really help students realize some of their potential.”
McKay is networking all the makerspaces at SICE and collaborating with labs at the School of Architecture, Art, + Design, the School of Education, and the Wells Library. McKay and Brown also are collaborating with IU’s University Information Technology Services (UITS) to become part of the MakeImpact Consortium, which is a large-scale networking collaboration with MIT and other member universities to provide tangible resources that speed integration of technology, innovation, making and entrepreneurship.
McKay is also looking forward to a time when the makerspaces are humming with activity.
“To see the lab busy, to me, that’s the best,” McKay says. “I want these spaces utilized to their optimum level. We have a lot of potential in these spaces.”
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