Professors aim to open on-campus makerspace for collaborative projects

Proposed+plan+for+maker+space

Proposed plan for maker space

Maricela Murillo, Staff Reporter

Two professors proposed transforming the 120-year-old mechanical services workshop into a “makerspace” complete with 3-D printers, woodworking equipment and other tools to give students a 24/7 accessible area for creating. 

Timothy Schuler, senior professor of practice and lab supervisor, and Cedric F. Walker, a biomedical engineering professor, gave an official presentation of the Tulane makerspace on Maker’s Row Friday. The workshop space, located on Engineering Road, will be redesigned by Charles Jones, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Architecture. 

The space will be open to all students at Tulane. Students will be granted Splash Card access after they complete a training session. Students will be expected to provide their own supplies for projects. 

“I think it’s incredibly exciting, the idea these days that you can make anything you want,” Schuler said. “The technology is not difficult to learn, and any idea you’ve ever had, at this point, we can do it. We can build pretty much anything that’s in your brain, and I think that’s really exciting.”

Walker shared Schuler’s enthusiasm for creating when they began working on this project four years ago. Walker wants to give all students a place to experiment.

“We just had a group [of biomedical engineering students] talking about an intrauterine insertion device that’s a very, very complex shape, because it has to be anatomically reasonable,” Walker said. “To build that in an old-fashioned machine shop would take months. Here, with 3-D modeling, they come up with the idea, they sketch it, they try it out, ‘oh, it’s not right, let’s build it again.’ The life cycle becomes much quicker.”

The makerspace is expected to open to students in October 2015, and the two professors have worked with Charles Jones and David Merlin from One to One LLC to come up with concept designs for the space. Among the amenities that will be offered at the makerspace are an arbor press, a number of 3-D printers and their accompanying SolidWorks software, welding equipment and a laser cutter. Training courses will be available for any type of machinery or equipment students wish to learn how to use.  

Schuler and Walker are also working on creating a tool library.

“Students have a project they’re building at home, they’re building a garden … They don’t have to go and buy a power saw,” Schuler said. “They can come borrow one of ours and use it for the weekend. The whole point is to give students the opportunity and availability of the tools they need to do whatever they want.”

Both Schuler and Walker stressed the importance of availability, education and collaboration in their plans for the future. 

“A year from now I want to come in here and at one of the assembly tables there’s going to be two students working,” Walker said. “One of them will be an art major, and one of them will be a physics major. They’re both going to be building things, coming out of the 3-D printer, and they’re going to be talking to each other. That’s the goal: collaboration.”

Sophomore and engineering physics major Ben Lewson said he plans to make full use of the makerspace once it is operational. 

“I decided I wanted to be an engineer from picking up stuff from woodshops and stuff back home, so I’m just really thrilled that we have this option here now that we can go [to] a makerspace,” Lewson said. “We learn all the theory, but now we actually have a chance to go and very tactically make it happen.”

Schuler said it will take a lot of work to get the decades-old machine shop up to modern standards. 

“This space was not designed for everyday student use, there’s a lot of very unsafe things in here right now — that needs to be fixed before we can get on top of anything,” Schuler said. 

Walker and Schuler hope they will be able to renovate, open and maintain the makerspace from generous donations.