News

College Unveils "Studio M" Laboratory for Exploration in Education and Technology

by Robert Abare '13
Studio M
Professor David Blauch shows off a model of a molecule created on a 3D printer.

Davidson College recently celebrated the grand opening of "Studio M," a new resource for technology, innovation and education. Designed by Information Technology Services (ITS) as a "makerspace," (hence its title) Studio M will foster technological creativity and exploration from its location in the south basement of Chambers Building.

ITS Executive Director Mur Muchane said three basic terms will define Studio M-open, engaged and experimental.

He explained that a makerspace gives people tools to realize their ideas in creative and inventive ways. "Under any of its various names-Makerspace, Innovation Lab, Hackerspace, Hacklab-it's generally a community-oriented workspace designed to encourage exploration, experimentation and collaboration among people with common interests-usually technologically oriented. It's a place designed to help people think in new ways, and to give them tools to realize their ideas in creative ways."

Muchane believes creating a makerspace on campus will help keep Davidson on the cutting edge of education and technology. "Over the years ITS has constantly sought to expand and promote the innovative use of technology across the curriculum and the campus," he said. "After conversations with faculty, staff and students, we decided we needed a physical space for a wide variety of current and emerging technologies that can invigorate intellectual inquiry and collaboration across conventional academic boundaries."

The name "Studio M" was selected through a naming competition that attracted more than 100 submissions. The winning name was submitted by Visiting Associate Professor and Director of Digital Studies Mark Sample for its "connotations of creativity and technological experimentation," said Muchane.

Muchane added, "We also like the name because it ties in nicely with Studio D, the existing experimental classroom in the Library that also encourages non-traditional thinking."

ITS Computing Support Analyst Brian Little, who will manage Studio M, explained that the makerspace will provide the college with unique assets. "Makerspaces have been around in hobbyist environments for years, but they are relatively few and far between at liberal arts colleges," he said. "Studio M gives us a chance to jump ahead of a trend."

CAPABILITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Studio M is equipped to help students and faculty accomplish a variety of projects. The broad array of tools and technologies include:

Studio M
People crowded into the Studio M grand opening, eager to learn about available hardware and software tools.

Physical computing–Studio M will work as a "starter kit" environment for physical computing. A variety of Arduino motherboards and shields will be available, along with common components and a kit of basic projects to help people learn to use them. Credit-card computers like Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone also will be available, along with sensors and data acquisition devices like Twine, Ninja Blocks, Automatic and Wimoto.

Code/soft computing–The space will compile and maintain a wiki directory of resources for coding, including tutorials, reference materials and applications.

Interfaces–The space will provide demonstration models for new and unusual or innovative human interface devices, including Thalmic Myo, MaKey-MaKey and LeapMotion USB.

Imaging–The space will offer user-loanable models of new, innovative or particularly useful imaging devices, such as the Lytro and GoPro HERO.

Fabrication–The space will function as an implementation center for new fabrication tools, including 3D scanning and printing, eventually expanding to include laser cutting and soft materials milling. In the vein of encouraging general creativity and three-dimensional thinking, a set of LEGO bricks will be available, along with copies of LEGO Digital Designer software, as well as a sampling of Sifteo cubes.

Aerial Tools–The space will provide access to a broad variety of aerial platforms for learning flight systems and deploying aerial imaging tools and sensors (drones, etc.).

Music–The space will offer demonstration units for new music tools, including looping decks like Tabletop for iPad, iOS MIDI interfaces and new or unusual software for mobile music development.

Resource Directories–The space will compile and maintain directories of additional resources such as 3D printing services, machining and production services, local hackerspaces and development guides.

POTENTIAL CLASSROOM PROJECTS

Professor and Chair of Mathematics Laurie Heyer plans to use Studio M for her classes. For instance, Heyer said her class in artificial intelligence might modify robots created by her previous classes.

Because Heyer collaborates with the Biology department, her students have already designed and created test tube holders using 3D printers. She said her students may use Studio M's printers in the future to make additional lab equipment. "With 3D printing, the possibilities are endless," she said.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Darren Floyd, who is teaching Davidson's first course in digital 3D art, also will take advantage of Studio M's resources. "Part of the course includes thinking through, designing and creating sculptures using 3D printers," he said.

Floyd added that his class may motorize and robotize the objects students create with Studio M's Arduino motherboards, and encourages his students to learn how to pilot Studio M's drones. "If a student needed an image of a tall building or object for 3D modeling, they could fly a drone to capture images from otherwise impossible angles," he said.

HOURS OF OPERATION

Initially, Little will staff Studio M from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 1:30 to 5 p.m. Fridays. However, ITS plans to expand these hours by hiring and training student employees.

Little expects that Studio M will be shaped by the needs of the Davidson community. "We want the form of Studio M to be determined by what people want to get out of it," he said. "When people ask me ‘what can I do in Studio M?' I answer ‘What do you want to do?!'"