Fab Lab, now at JJC, teaches ‘how to make anything’
BY CINDY WOJDYLA CAIN firstname.lastname@example.org August 12, 2013 5:52PM
Updated: September 14, 2013 6:15AM
JOLIET — Ophelia Yip traveled to Joliet Junior College on Monday to try to make a mini robot out of a toothbrush, a tiny motor and some batteries.
“I’m trying to make a bristle bot,” the Bolingbrook 18-year-old said. “I’m trying to make this one spin. I don’t know how that will work out, but I’m going to try.”
It was one of just many hands-on experiments available at the mobile Fab Lab, a rolling state-of-the-art fabrication unit designed to let kids and adults innovate and experiment.
Fab Lab is the brainchild of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Patrick McCarthy, a Museum of Science and Industry facilitator, who was teaching kids how to use 3-D printers during Monday’s kickoff for the lab’s three-day stop at JJC.
Fab Labs originally were designed to teach people “how to make anything,” McCarthy said.
“And they caught on like wildfire,” he said. “It turns out, everybody likes to make everything.”
It’s designed to boost an interest in science, which has waned since the space race to the moon, he said.
“Astronauts were treated like rock stars, and it made science cool,” McCarthy said of that bygone era. “And it all kind of fell apart, and we are seeing the effect of that.”
Most Fab Labs, including one at the museum in Chicago, are stationary, but a few roll about the country bringing science to potential inventors of all ages.
The 3-D printer is perhaps the most exciting item in the Fab Lab because they’re becoming more and more affordable and they’ll revolutionize how people invent things, McCarthy said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-11th, who was on hand to kick off Fab Lab’s Joliet stop, said some day the printers will be used along with stem cells to create replacement organs for humans.
They’re also helping American’s children learn how to innovate, Foster said.
“Kids can see the magic of this technology,” he said. “They imagine a thing that they want to exist in the world, and then they take their ideas and they make them real.”
3-D printing technology helps people create things that can’t be assembled but that can be imagined and built on a computer, he said.
“So all of this is very empowering to a kid,” Foster said. “To be able to design something, build it and hold it in their hands. And we need to get them excited. We need to get our children prepared for a global 21st century job market.”
Foster introduced the National Fab Lab Network Act of 2013 in the spring. The bill would create a federal charter for a nonprofit called the National Fab Lab Network. The network would help American manufacturers create jobs and encourage students to become more interested in science, technology, engineering and math fields at no cost to taxpayers, he said.
Will County Executive Larry Walsh said he is on board with Foster’s science push.
“If that is what it takes for this country to move forward in the creation of and interest in math and science, I am 100 percent behind (it),” Walsh said. “Because that’s where the future is at.”
Innovation also is part of Joliet’s past, said Jim Murphy, assistant to Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante. Murphy noted that the city has produced several inventors, including John Houbolt, whose name is on the street running in front of JJC. Houbolt attended JJC “before moving on to NASA, where his imagination helped to create the lunar module that landed man on the moon,” Murphy said.
“So what is the next big thing and who is going to invent it?” Murphy said. “Could be someone in our audience this morning. Could be someone who is going to use the Fab Lab. We will find out, for sure.”