Maker Studio provides temporary opportunity in creative technology

Professor Chris Rogers (not pictured) and a staff member demonstrate a 3D printer in the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach as part of the Jumbo Maker's Studio on August 25th, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

From lab materials to circuit boards to phone cases, the Jumbo’s Maker Studio’s three-dimensional printer is fostering creativity among Tufts students and professors. The Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) opened its first Jumbo’s Maker Studio in June after receiving a 2012 grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance for $34,000 and additional funding from Lego.

According to CEEO Co-Director and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chris Rogers, the studio invited undergraduate students, faculty and locals alike to come and experiment with 3-D printing technology.

“A couple hundred people came through, doing research over the summer [and] needing to print,” Rogers said. “People were making everything from something for their lab [research] to making a plastic octopus.”

Space limitations, however, only allowed the studio to operate temporarily, according to Brian Gravel, lecturer and director of Elementary Education in the Education Department. The studio opened in a room in Tisch Library under the condition that the makers move out by Aug. 16.

The next step, Rogers explained, is convincing the administration to secure a permanent space for the studio on campus.

“We’re talking a lot to [Provost and Senior Vice President] David Harris,” Rogers said. “The library experience this summer was good; we had a lot of feedback from [Director of Tisch Library] Laura Wood, who signed off on the guidelines for it.”

According to Rogers, more student interest would help the case for a permanent space.

“We’ll probably try again next summer, to try and experiment and talk about making it permanent again, until people want a makers’ space more than they want a conference room available,” Rogers said.

Funding, Rogers noted, is not as big of a concern.

“We’ve had a 15-year-long relationship with Lego, developing various language education products; there’s a whole robotics line we’ve been involved with,” he said. “We do research for them, we talk with teachers all around the world with them … They’re very interested in what this makers thing is all about.”

The idea to open the studio took shape five years ago, according to Rogers.

“An undergraduate who was here at Tufts started the Bot Lab, and that’s when we started doing all the 3-D printing,” he said. “We’d been talking for two years with people from the president on down. My dean is a big supporter of this as well.”

The Robotics Club at Tufts has also been supporting the creation of makers spaces on campus.

“Makers spaces are … a way to bring really smart people together to share ideas,” Riley Wood, a junior and president of the Robotics Club, said. “It’s why the spaces are really cool.”

Brian O’Connell, a Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering at the School of Engineering, is doing part of his thesis on how people learn in spaces like the makers studios.

“It’s an educational setting,” he said. “We don’t want [makers] just printing a key chain. We want them to learn to engage with other individuals in the space.”

The next step according to O’Connell is to examine best practices for setting up a space that promotes the maximum amount of learning.

“What other activities, what other curricula [are there]?” O’Connell said. “How do we set up the space to promote that, how much intervention do we do, what’s at the forefront?”

Gravel also helped facilitate the pilot studio’s operations. He hoped to explore the educational benefits of fabricating items in a shared learning space.

Nearly anyone, he noted, can make use of 3-D printers.

“There’s a huge amount of directions people are taking it in,” he said. “[They are] printing out hardware stuff, new iPhone cases, or parts for testing for malaria, new organs, stem cells … I [can imagine] going on Amazon and purchasing an object, and it would print it out on your own 3-D printer.”

Visitors to the studio this summer printed a wide variety of objects, Gravel noted. 

“One of the research librarians started making her own jewelry,” he said. “There was a student doing her own research in the chemistry department … and she used some of the pieces to make some plastic petri dishes that would have cost her hundreds of dollars.”

This fall, 3-D printing on campus is still an option, but the printers are not as easily accessible as they would be if they were housed in a permanent studio.

“One of the things we’re pushing for with the CEEO is moving [equipment] to [200] Boston Ave.,” O’Connell said. “We’re taking a lot of the stuff we bought for Tisch and temporarily setting it up in Boston Ave., so people can experiment.”

In the meantime, Gravel, O’Connell, Rogers and a few other key individuals are planning to organize maker tutorials this fall for those interested in learning how to use the 3-D printers.

“We’ll be working with Tufts MAKE to be offering classes,” Gravel said. “It’s all experimental, a two-hour, one-shot class you sign up for, you pay five or 10 bucks to go … students will teach them and you’ll get money for teaching a class.”

Wood pointed out that the Robotics Club unsuccessfully tried to host classes like these a few years ago.

“[Club members] would teach during the week, with a minimum of three or four [people] trying to sign up,” Wood said. “Attendance declined … but this model might be more successful. Chris Rogers told me that he wanted someone to set up a website to administrate all that. I think it’s a really good idea. The incentive of getting paid for teaching will be a little more successful.”

McDonnell Family Professor of Engineering Education Ben Shapiro, an assistant professor of computer science, will also open a maker space in Malden, Mass. that will be open to Tufts students for printing this fall.

The Robotics Club also has a vested interest in establishing a permanent makers studio on campus. Wood noted that a studio would give the club some flexibility in when it can fabricate items for its projects.

“One major benefit I see is that this space would make it possible for members of the club to work on projects outside of club time,” Wood said. “This involves electrical work in addition to prototyping parts. A lot of projects I’ve planned for this school year will probably require independent group work, and while our lab is open during the week, the hours can be restrictive.”

Wood is also hopeful that the 3-D printers would be better maintained in a permanent studio.

“The Robotics Club has 3-D printers of its own, but lately they’ve been malfunctioning and I and members of the club lack either the time or expertise to fix them,” Wood said. “A maker space with guaranteed-functional printers would make 3-D printing much easier.”

Wood explained that he could see students using a studio as a place to learn new skills outside of class.

“You could have a basic soldering class,” Wood said. “Something I’ve wanted to learn is surface mounting component parts on a circuit board. I see this becoming the engineering ex-college.”

Wood, like Gravel, emphasized that 3-D printing is not just for engineers.

“If you have a 3-D model it can be a reality,” Wood said. “It just takes learning some software to make the models. You can find them on the Internet, and you can have it in about three hours.”

He also noted the importance of 3-D printing as a tool.

“[It’s] the idea that you can imagine it and then have it in your hands,” he said. “That’s just incredible.” 


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