Penn State’s Maker Commons is a hub of creativity

Posted by Jacqui Adams on

Taken from Centre Daily Times


In a corner of Penn State’s Pattee Library Maker Commons, a floor-to-ceiling glass enclosure houses 32 3-D printers stacked three-high on shelves. Day and night they pump out vibrant, plastic figures, from model rockets to Millennium Falcons.

One door over in the Invention Studio, patrons use connectable, electronic pieces known as littleBits to link speakers, sensors and lights — among other technologies — to Lego blocks in order to develop prototypes of any concept they can think up.

Combined, these spaces are the Maker Commons, a new addition to Penn State’s library system. While 3-D printing has been on campus for a while, the $125,000 Maker Commons has the first 3-D printers available to students, faculty and staff from all Penn State campuses, free of charge.

The goal is simple: innovation and exploration.

“Within the Media Commons, we’re trying to make sure that people with no previous experience in 3-D printing can really explore that medium,” said Ryan Wetzel, Penn State’s media and Maker Commons manager.

He cited the Invention Studio as the place for rapid prototyping — testing many iterations of a design quickly and without much waste. Patrons use pink littleBits for inputs, like buttons and sensors; green bits are outputs, adding lights and motors; and orange bits, known as “wires,” snap on to provide software and Web connectivity.

The 3-D printing lab provides a more permanent way to evaluate ideas.

Wetzel likes to think of integrating 3-D printing into classwork as “invention as homework,” and, indeed, students from all disciplines are seeing the Maker Commons included in their courses.

Students in engineering classes have come in to build model rockets, business students have developed phone and laptop cases, and technical English courses have used the Invention Studio for writing “how-tos” on the creation of new inventions. People can also come in with curiosity projects not linked to any subject.

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