A Fabrication Laboratory, also known as a Fab Lab, is a small-scale workshop that provides access to tools for digital fabrication, with the aim to make "almost anything." Fab Labs are designed to produce physical objects using numerically controlled machines. Currently, there are more than 650 Fab Labs around the world, with most of them operated at universities, investigation centers, businesses and other independent organizations and firms. Sage Kaplan-Goland ’20, a physics major, has been exploring the possibility of incorporating a Fab Lab here at Grinnell. In this process, the Wilson Center has been supporting Kaplan-Goland, such as helping him to attend the 13th International Fab Lab Conference in Santiago, Chile, this year.

Why Develop a Fab Lab at Grinnell?

Kaplan-Goland, inspired by his passion for engineering, hopes to increase access to experimental, educational and innovative experiential-learning opportunities at Grinnell. “I’ve been interested in engineering since I was a little kid, and I’ve found a lot of friends here that are the same way. I wanted to make opportunities available to everyone on campus,” he writes. Kaplan-Goland views Fab Labs as potential impetus for greater community entrepreneurship and engagement.

Additionally, Fab Labs are global tools designed with collaboration and interconnectedness in mind. Fab Labs share a similar arrangement of operational machineries and processes, and as such, a Fab Lab at Grinnell would be a part of a diverse and engaging network. The development of a Fab Lab at Grinnell would further the college’s mission of facilitating collaboration and expanding engagement beyond campus.

Lessons from the Conference

Kaplan-Goland participated in workshops about starting communities of practice for using digital fabrication in education as well as about teaching methodologies for using digital fabrication in college-level classes. “These education-based workshops provided me with a lot of useful information about how the Fab Lab can integrate with existing types of education as well as a network of people who I can get help from,” he writes. 

The International Fab Lab Conference helped Kaplan-Goland to understand Fab Labs not only as effective technological innovations, but also as critical mechanisms for social change, empowerment, and human development. “While there were several different fields that the conference covered, they were all tied together by the idea that people can take action to make the world a better place. The conference may have technically been about digital fabrication, but there was a sense throughout all facets of the conference that the technology was just a means to an end, a way to enable people to innovate and lead,” he concludes.

The Wilson Center seeks to inspire and prepare students as innovators and leaders through courses, professional development, and events that emphasize experiential learning.

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