Over the past two weeks, the Brandeis University MakerLab showcased collections in New York and Boston. On Sept. 17, they traveled to the Boston Children’s Museum to present at the Boston Mini Maker Faire. Then, this past weekend, 12 Brandeis students and several MakerLab staff members were in New York City, participating in the World Maker Faire.
Featuring 3D printing, drones, robots and other engineering marvels, a Maker Faire is a tech lover’s paradise. To showcase their creations, Brandeis students teamed up with colleagues from Wellesley College, University of Connecticut and Colgate University. Brandeis staff and students gave several talks, and MakerLab co-founder Tim Hebert captured third place in a drone piloting contest featuring some of the best pilots in the world.
This was the third time Brandeis attended the World Maker Faire, though the MakerLab has also been represented at many smaller faires. Ian Roy ’05, co-founder and head of the MakerLab, estimated that around 120,000 people may have attended the faire, which took place at the New York Hall of Science.
In both New York and Boston, the MakerLab showed off its collection of 3D printed DNA models, which are widely admired in the scientific community. Many other 3D printed objects were also on display. Students exhibited drones and allowed visitors to try their hand at drone piloting using a simulator. An addition in New York City was live 3D printing. While MakerLab staff ran the booth in Boston, students in NYC were in charge and on their own for the first time.
“It was nice to be like, ‘These are the students here, and not the staff and faculty, who plan everything,’” enthuses Gabe Seltzer ’18, Senior Advisor to Deis3D. “Which is something that’s…very special for our MakerLab, which is that most or all of the ideas that happen here happened because some student said, ‘I want to do this.’” Children and their families were the main audience at both maker faires.
Seltzer believes that the kid-friendly, accessible and noncommercial nature of MakerLab leads to popularity. “Kids are always enthralled with the stuff that we have. We call our booth the tech petting zoo…We’re not afraid to do weird things or go out on a limb…to show off something that’s not the greatest 3D print of all time but we know that people will like. Whereas folks who are trying to sell 3D printers can only show the best. We get a lot of people who come by and have a good time at our booth, seeing what’s possible, that they don’t necessarily get even from the professionals.”
Tim Porter, Project Director of the Boston Mini Maker Faire for the Boston Children’s Museum, agreed, “I saw the great work you guys presented down at World Maker Faire  and knew we had to have you here in Boston.”
“Bringing all these creative makers around the city to meet each other…is I think really of benefit, but mostly for the families that come visit it’s great for kids and their adults to see all the ways of being innovative and creative that happen in the city,” Porter said of the faire.
Instead of tabling alone in NYC, Brandeis decided to team up with Wellesley, UConn and Colgate. According to Roy, Brandeis started collaborating with Wellesley because of its close proximity, and UConn as a result of their attendance at one of our Hackathons. Wellesley and Brandeis students visit each other on a regular basis, and UConn students have worked at the MakerLab during the summer. “We have very different skillsets,” Seltzer explains. “Wellesley has really cool 3D scanning and VR, stuff that they were showing off.”
The three schools teamed up in New York for a talk titled “Instilling a Maker Mindset on Campus: Case Studies.” Wellesley, UConn and Brandeis each contributed a student to a panel moderated by Roy and Jordan Tynes from Wellesley. It was a discussion of the students’ journeys through making and how it has impacted their academic careers.
Claire Sun ’18 spoke about her personal journey through Hackathons and the cross-disciplinary nature of hack events. Sun was the first student without a background in engineering to be hired by SolidWorks, a 3D modeling company, due to her experience in the MakerLab. “The tools have gotten good enough that a subject matter expert can bootstrap themselves and they don’t have to be an engineer to produce a prototype,” Roy says.
In Boston, MakerLab co-founder and Media Technology Administrator Tim Hebert and MakerLab Service Coordinator Hazal Uzunkaya ’14 gave a talk on the impact of Hackathons. Last year, Hebert won first place in the drone racing competition. “This year, out of a more competitive pack of the top pilots in the world, he came in third place,” Roy, who also competed, relates. “We were very happy about this…He’s one of the best drone racers today…Really we’d like to have him train up a team locally, be the coach, and start doing intercollegiate competition.”
Despite its accomplishments, Brandeis MakerLab has only existed for four years. “In a way it’s always been the culture here. There just wasn’t an avenue for that.” said Roy. He believes Brandeis is uniquely positioned to have an outsized role in the upcoming technological revolutions known as the ‘Singularity.’
“The place where robots first become conscious and autonomous…It’s gonna be a liberal arts research university where people are into the code and have that cultural connection humanizing the robot. I feel like the place where the robot gets its soul for the first time, if it’s not Brandeis it’s gonna be a place that looks an awful lot like Brandeis.”