Posted June 25, 2012 Atlanta, GA
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Imagine a playground perfect for anyone who has never outgrown a love for LEGOs.
That’s what it is like walking into the Georgia Tech Invention Studio, where every surface is filled with equipment or creations from the studio’s participants. From miniature Yoda heads crafted on 3D printers to a miniature wooden bulldozer that would light up the eyes of any toddler, the studio is clearly a hotbed of Georgia Tech students’ creativity and innovation.
Managed by the Makers Club, the Georgia Tech Invention Studio has been around since 2008, when an old mailroom was transformed into a small machine room. Almost four years later, it has expanded into a 1,000-square-foot space with cutting-edge prototyping equipment that students of all disciplines can use to get real-world designing and building skills.
The studio is now comprised of three separate rooms on the second floor of the Manufacturing Related Discipline Complex containing several high-end pieces of equipment, including a water jet and a hot injection mold machine. The studio recently obtained two additional laser cutters to meet growing student demand. One student expanded the functionality of these cutters by writing a code that enables the machine to cut patterns that can then be assembled into 3-D creations.
“The cutting-edge tools we have are due to very generous support from the Institute’s student technology fee and from corporate sponsorship,” said Craig Forest, mechanical engineering professor and faculty advisor for the Invention Studio. “We want to send forward inventors and engineers into society by providing a home for design-build education and culture. The studio is a small step in the right direction.” Hands-on education is also a fundamental aspect of the Institute’s Strategic Plan.
Though originally established to provide mechanical engineering capstone students with a workspace to foster collaboration and efficiency, the Invention Studio welcomes students of all disciplines.
Eric Weinhoffer, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student and outgoing president of the Makers Club, emphasizes the importance of applying theory learned in the classroom. “By leveraging the equipment in the Invention Studio, graduates are more desirable job candidates because of their abilities and skills,” Weinhoffer says.
Approximately 50 undergraduate laboratory instructors, or ULIs, staff the lab each week and are available to teach visitors how to use the space’s equipment and resources. Workshop facilitators also volunteer in the studio, teaching techniques and skills in woodworking, knitting, rocketry and other specialized areas. After experimenting with machines and attending workshops, students are eligible to apply to become a volunteer ULI or workshop facilitator, and also become a member of the Makers Club.
“Knowing how things are designed makes you a better engineer,” added Chris Quintero, a recent alumnus and staff member in the studio. In February, the White House took an interest in how the studio is doing that, interviewing Quintero and Weinhoffer for its Office of Science Technology and Policy blog.
Perhaps the most unusual characteristic is the student ownership of the space. “I left one weekend and returned to find our new sitting blocks had been vinyl-printed with the studio logo,” Quintero said. ULIs are present in the studio at all hours, hosting holiday events, working on academic projects or designing in their free time.
“It’s hard not to get inspired to build something if you hang around there long enough,” said Weinhoffer. Last year, Weinhoffer spearheaded the creation of the Atlanta Mini Makers Faire, a celebration of do-it-yourself projects. This year’s event is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, October 6, on Tech Walk.
Students interested in learning more about the Invention Studio are encouraged to visit the website or drop in to meet the ULIs and experiment with the equipment.