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The Fab Lab


How a non-profit community space at CSUB gives access to the tools to make just about anything.


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Cal State University, Bakersfield's (CSUB) Fab Lab provides local students with an opportunity to learn digital fabrication and computation while unleashing their creativity to build (almost) anything they can design. As part of a project-based, hands-on STEM education, fab lab gives students a chance to create and build things using all kinds of technological tools.

Built last summer, CSUB's Fab Lab is fully funded by Chevron to be one of the first in the nation to open in a university setting. With 90 fab labs nationwide and 450 around the world, they are comprised of off-the-shelf, industrial-grade fabrication and electronics tools wrapped in open source software and programs written by researchers at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms.

Fab labs have spread from inner-city Boston to rural India and from South Africa to the north of Norway. Activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment, peer-to-peer project-based technical training, local problem solving, and small-scale high-tech business incubation to grass-roots research. Projects being developed and produced in fab labs include solar and wind-powered turbines, thin-client computers and wireless data networks, analytical instrumentation for agriculture and healthcare, custom housing, and rapid-prototyping machines.

Currently, the CSUB Fab Lab includes a laser cutter that makes 2D and 3D structures, a sign cutter that plots in copper to make antennas and flex circuits, a high-resolution milling machine that makes circuit boards and precision parts, a large wood router for building furniture and housing, and a suite of electronic components and programming tools for low-cost, high-speed microcontrollers for on-site rapid circuit prototyping. All that's needed to create is the students' imagination.

"I want them [students] to learn digital fabrication. I want them to learn what it is to be a maker and creator instead of a consumer," says Matt Chalker, CSUB's Fab Lab specialist and liaison. "It's fun for them to have an idea on the screen, and then it becomes real in a tangible item you can hold in your hand. It's a wonderful and powerful experience to have."

Chalker says the fab lab can make just about anything – it's just a matter of time and dedication. He's personally seen students make quad-copter drones that look like hawks to scare off animals from the agricultural fields. He's also seen a theatre class make props and set designs for their production. Some middle school students made carve-out custom name signs and finger puppets of themselves. Although it's in the engineering department, the fab lab is open to art, education, and drama projects.

In order to participate in CSUB's Fab Lab, most students sign up through their teachers, groups, or organizations. Teachers can sign up for one visit for one hour, one afternoon, or 10 times. This month, the fab lab will start an outreach program to take the Fab Lab to students who can't make it to CSUB.

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Tags: Featured Story, Parenting


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