Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Press / Accomplishments

Questions and Answers for Press

Photos of recent creations

See pictures of the lab, our programs, the people that use it and the sorts of things we create!

How long have you existed?  

Planning meetings began meeting in the fall of 2008.  The fablab began with initial tests with groups of young people in the Summer of 2009, and then followed with an official opening in the October of 2009. We’ve been open to the public consistently ever since!

Who is the Fab Lab for?

Our audience is both community and university. Our users are a diverse group in many ways as they come from a variety backgrounds and cultures. They have ranged from 10 years to 92 years old, and include adult hobbyists, students and researchers, retirees and professional artisans.

Some maker spacers are small, close-knit but isolated clubs. Others are large corporate or university Fab Labs. We strive to break out of this model to get to the underserved parts of our community. Besides maintaining a lab that is free to use we reach people where they are in four ways:

  1. Open Lab – Our lab is open for free to the public several days a week. This includes times during the day, night and weekends.
  2. Bringing in groups, summer camps – We arrange special workshops with organizations frequently. Thanks to our regular staff we are able to host these workshops at virtually any time. We also run camps with hundreds of attendees each summer.
  3. Event deployments – We often go out and run booths at events. We have a dedicated set of mobile tools, example creations and publicity materials to make this easy. This allows us to network with many people and break the lab out of the lab to raise awareness.
  4. Mini Labs – The above is not enough to really get to some of the underserved parts of our community. We’ve specifically set up several mini labs around town to directly insert Fab Lab opportunities into powerful contexts – including both local public libraries and several after-school centers, and we have also partnered with schools and retirement communities. Read about our local partners.

An example user case might be when one of our volunteers brought in her father, a former engineer, to work on his invention. He needed assistance learning the necessary computer skills so a teen user sitting next to him in the lab took the time to assist him. Later they were both in the electronics room at the same time where the young man was trying to unsuccessfully solder circuitry on his board. The retired engineer sat and taught him how to do it. While our users may come from many different places in life they all come together and form knowledge and relationships through creation.

Who is on your team?

The CUC FabLab is an open source community (think about the implications of that term!) of people who like to design and make things. We have staff and volunteers who come from a wide range of experience including engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, professors, fashion designers, librarians, a blacksmith, teachers, parents, kids and students. Our core leadership group has varied over the years but has always required representation and participation from both the community and university – this is a central value for us.

How do you feel you have impacted the community?

DSC_0014We celebrate entrepreneurial initiative, collaboration and lifelong learning. We provide the community many resources, including skilled volunteers, computers, computer-controlled (CNC) machines, advanced materials and electronics assembly tools. These high tech tools have made it possible for patrons to build virtually anything imaginable, from simple stickers to fully-functional robots. The uniqueness of our site has encouraged local inventors to develop prototypes for their designs.  The CUC FabLab  is part of a global network of Fab Labs — which has made it possible for us to make many connections with like minded people around the world sharing our experience globally.

Other impacts might include:

  • Innovation Driven by Community-University Partnership – Working with community groups has enabled us to develop more effective methods for teaching people how to learn and use technology in relevant ways. Examples have inclded using a game interface (Spore) as a more effective way to do 3D rendering, connecting art foundations basics to digital graphic design methods and enabling collaborative pedagogical production and documentation via Google Docs.
  • Recasting the Digital Divide – Community Informatics usually focuses on the low end of the digital divide, people without access to and skills with basic computer technology. Historically, rapid fabrication and prototyping production facilities have been open only to highly privileged individuals such as designers, engineers and researchers in university and corporate settings. The Fab Lab breaks up both of these things by enabling often disenfranchised individuals, especially teens and the elderly, to be a part of the cutting-edge of digital technology. Individuals go beyond simply typing email, plugging in to Facebook or playing flash games to actually inventing and building solutions to problems.
  • Alternative Learning Contexts – Learning that takes place within the Fab Lab is often of two alternative varieties, non-formal, and informal. These forms are notably distinguished in that they are less hierarchical, less propaedeutic in nature (reliant on former schooling) and are typically voluntary. Even though learners may set out with the specific objective of learning how to, say, build a box with a laser engraver, they necessarily develop other seemingly unrelated skills simultaneously. For instance, the person interested in creating a star-shaped box may have to struggle to learn how to properly describe what they wish to do, practicing verbal communication skills, and later, if they decide to draw it, visual expression and projection as well. This learning is incidental and unintentional, but is consciously absorbed. Attitudes and behaviors are crucial to successful scholarly learning experiences. These are ‘learned’ through the life-long process of socialization, as people perform their identities in everyday life. The Fab Lab has the potential to elate and incite curiosity, drum up motivation, encourage divergent thinking through experimentation, and require patience and persistence.
  • Metrics for Digital Literacy – –First, people learn a fundamentally empowering lesson: they too can be a creator of things. Not just information, not just ideas, but the combination of the two applied to real world physical objects that they can hold (within minutes!). Implicit to this notion is that they are able to influence the world around them. Everyone involved may experience this empowerment: students, teachers, and volunteers. –Second, people work towards demystifying the black boxes so rampant in our world today. Many people grow up without learning how the inside of a computer works or what takes places behind the scenes as a graphic is created. The Fab Lab encourages digging beneath the surface (seeing inside of the open-face 3D printer) to discover cause and effect processes. Even just opening the lid of the Silhouette Cameo cutter and trading out the blade and loading the cutting mat helps to dismantle small fears that could eventually accumulate to the debilitating levels often seen in some elderly people when they try to learn how to use computers. Rejecting the surface world and peering beneath the surface of technologies is key to critiquing them and mastering them to make them their own.

Accomplishments Timeline


  • From here on out please refer to the Report to the Director
  • Credit given in Robertson, I.D. et al. (2014). “Rapid Stiffening of a Microfluidic Endoskeleton via Frontal Polymerization.” ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 6, pg. 18469-18474.


  • Participated in grant projects with multiple units (Informatics, GSLIS, Business) and funding organizations (DCEO, UI Extension, NSF) totaling around half a million dollars. These grants were made possible by research and programming conducted by Fab Lab staff and affiliates.
  • For the first time ever the Fab Lab offered open-registration workshops (in addition to our usual workshops with organizations and partner groups). We ran a series of summer camps serving around 200 youth in the CU area. These workshops not only introduced youth participants to digital literacies but also served as cutting-edge curriculum development. This was followed by weekly adult education orientation sessions attended by approximately 50 people over the course of the fall semester. We pushed our age limit down to 8 (it was previously 10) and up to patrons in their 80’s and 90’s!
  • Community partnerships expanded to include Champaign Public Library, Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center, Kenwood Elementary School and Clark Lindsey Retirement Village, in addition to sustaining work with The Urbana Free Library and Tap In Leadership Academy. We also continued to work with other community organizations, from venture crews to robot competition teams to UIUC student clubs.
  • Began hosting UIUC studio classes entirely in the Fab Lab with the introduction of ARTS499: Makerspace (42 students). Ran workshops for half a dozen other classes at UIUC and provided consulting for dozens of graduate and undergraduate student projects.
  • Introduced an option for lab rental and consulting for both university units and community groups. To date we’ve provided over 50 hours of lab rental time and consulting.
  • Our core operations group grew to include 10 staff and around over a dozen volunteers and affiliated graduate students, providing between 20-40 hours of service to both community and university each week at the main lab location alone. We continue to work hard on cultivating diversity amongst our operations group, and include people of many ages, educational backgrounds, ethnicities and nearly equal gender representation.
  • Added a number of advanced fabrication tools and capacities, including bringing full functionality to three milling machines, cubic foot 3D printers, half a dozen sewing machines, two digital embroidery stations and enough soldering irons and small board electronics to run full workshops. We also run the most flexible computer lab on campus, able to offer open source as well as advanced propriety software such as the Adobe suite, on Macs and PC’s that can be configured on short notice to run nearly any operating system desired.
  • Reorganized and expanded the space to allow for classes of up to 16 participants in a single group, or groups of up to 32 split into sections for different simultaneous activities.
  • Participated in dozens of conferences, expo and remote workshop events all around the state. Examples include the Heartland Makerfest, Illinois Library Association Conference in Springfield, Discover Manufacturing Expo in Peoria, UIUC Public Engagement Colloquium, Shareout at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Mississippi Valley Technology Teacher Education Conference and more.


  • Implemented digital sign-in system – visitor throughput so far is at least 2x greater in 8 months (January)
  • Added machines – stereo lithography 3D printer, Shapeoko (March – Matt Alonso, Andrew Knight)
  • Jeff Ginger presents at ALA 2013, “Monster or Bust: Enabling Youth through 3D Modeling and Printing.” A presentation in Creating Game-Based Makerspaces, American Library Association Annual Conference, Chicago (June)
  • Robert McGrath presentations and papers – McGrath, Robert E., “A Community Fab Lab: Introductions to Making”, Presented at Digital Humanities 2013, Lincoln, Nebraska, July 2013 and “Introductions to Making at a Community Fab Lab”, Presented at HASTAC 2013, Toronto (April)
  • Dean Rose and Steve Holt presentation at the STAR Expo (April)
  • Urbana Free Library mini lab thrives, with an average of 30 teen visitors from diverse backgrounds visiting on a daily basis; Jeff Ginger commits to case study on it for dissertation, continues collaboration with GSLIS (May through December – with support from Joel Spencer, Amber Castens and Karen Barton)
  • Andrew Knight and Robert McGrath created composite tripod mount for graduation Alma Mater photos as well as a simulation of the statue with an app  (May – video)
  • Jeff and Isabella Howard begin the Fab Lab Makers, a club for the teens-only Saturday morning kids, includes programming and credentialing schema (May)
  • Continued consulting with Alaskan Federation of Natives and Chicago Public Library (June – Alan Craig and Robert McGrath as lead)
  • Summer workshop series with 7 groups, including Tap In Leadership Academy, Next Generation School, Bloomington-Normal Children’s Discovery Museum, Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center (UNCC), CS App Dev camp for girls, Project Next Generation (Douglass Branch Library), Upward Bound — over 110 junior high and high school participants, mostly from underserved backgrounds, help from a dozen volunteers and 32+ hours of actual workshop activity time (June through August – Jeff Ginger)
  • The Product Manufactory (, a startup that began at the Fab Lab that is run by Mercedes Mane and Bryan Wilcox, was featured in the News Gazette (July)
  • We hosted the MIT Mobile Fab Lab and ran several events, including quad day open house and workshop for local military students and a ShopBot test-drive (August – Dean Rose, Sally Jackson, Lisa Bievenue, Jeff Ginger)
  • Host a visit from Jonathan Landais and Marie Lombard from Fab Lab Lyon to run two workshops, “The Bush of Life” in partnership with the Fab Lab Makers and UNCC (September – Virginia McCreary, Robert McGrath, Jeff Ginger)
  • Fab Lab featured as a WICD news spot (link TBA) (September)
  • Participation in the Urbana Independent Media Center Makerspace Makerfaire 2013 ( (September – Virginia McCreary)
  • Gary and MK Watson continue to help out with nearly every event J
  • Begin collaboration with Bruce Litchfield of Engineering (and presumably FAA – July through November – Jeff Ginger, Gary Watson and Bryan Wilcox)


  • Fab Academy – Lab supported an expert guru working virtually with global student body (January-May)
  • Valentine’s Day Gift Class, Computer and Laser Areas (February)
  • Urbana Free Library’s Teen Tech Week Workshop and Demonstration (March)
  • Urbana-Champaign Mini Maker Faire (March)
  • Fab Lab & iFoundry Workshop featuring Federico Joselevich (March)
  • Hack a T-Shirt Community Event at Fab Lab (April)
  • Public Engagement Symposium, Champaign, IL (April)
  • Partnerships for a Thriving Champaign-Urbana Conference, NCSA (April)
  • Channel 3 News Interviews with CUC Fab Lab and Highlights (May)
  • CUC Fab Lab Presentation Display, City of Champaign STAR Expo (May)
  • Workshop: Pen-on-Paper Flexible Electronics, Silver-based conductive inks(June)
  • Publication: McGrath, R. E., Rischau, J., & Craig, A. B. 2012. Transforming Creativity: Personalized Manufacturing Meets Embodied Computing.Knowledge Management and E-Learning, 4(2), 157-173.
  • Begin mini-lab outreach workshops with community partner organizations, including librarians for Urbana Free Library, teachers from Stratton Elementary, and a six-week summer series with Tap In Leadership Academy (June-August)
  • Fab Lab Display and open workshop in conjunction with Makerspace Urbana at the “Outta the Mouths of Babes Local Radio Celebration” at the Independent Media Center (August)
  • Fab8 NZ, CUC Fab Lab Presentations – an academic paper and an operations workshop (August)
  • Ginger, J., McGrath, R. Barrett, B. & McCreary, V. Mini Labs: Building Capacity For Innovation through a Local Community Fab Lab Network. (August)
  • Presentation: Cutcher-Gershenfeld, J., Barrett, B., Jackson, S., Jackson Jacobs, C., Mane, M., McCreary, V., Rose, D., Street, W., Watson, M., & Wilcox, B. Stakeholder Alignment Among U.S. Fab Labs.. NSF case study (August)
  • Bridging the Digital Divide grant announcement event put on by the City of Champaign (October)
  • Saturday Open Lab for 10-16-Year-Olds (Fall)
  • Hassan, R. “Craft-Man-Do and So Can You!”, Buzz Weekly, October 21, 2012.
  • Presentation: McGrath, R. E.  A Community Fab Lab: Introductions to Making, submitted to Digital Humanities 2013, Lincoln, Nebraska, July 2013.
  • Presentation:  Ginger, J. Chicago Coalition that includes the Chicago Public Library (Brian Bannon), YouMedia (Yolande Wilburn), Nettelhorst Schools (Ted Ganchiffe), and DePaul University (Scott Walter) on community Fab Lab network building (November)


  • Presentation: United States Fab Lab Network Conference., Kansas City, KS (January)
  • Publication: Watson, G. 2011. The Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab.ACM interactions magazine, 18(5), 86-87
  • Inkscape Intro I Class (January)
  • Fab Academy: Four volunteers completed this certificate program (January-May)
  • Student Project/Art Installation: The Neuromaker Project:  The transformational connections between personal fabrication, embodied computing, and the performing arts, UIUC. (February)
  • UIUC Public Engagement Symposium, Champaign, IL (March)
  • Urbana-Champaign Mini Maker Faire (April)
  • Great Fab Lab Sandwich Fabrication Event  (May)
  • Squishy Circuits, Lead instructor Lauren Semararo (June)
  • Hey! That’s MY water bottle, Lead instructor Steve Holt (June)
  • “Rock my Ride” summer class (June)
  • CUC FABLAB Electronics Summer Workshop, Lead instructor Mercedes Mane (July)
  • NSF “Stakeholder Alignment Across U.S. Fab Labs” data collection and analysis (March-August)
  • FAB7 Lima: Fab Lab Annual International Conference Presentations (August): Stakeholder Alignment Academic Track Presentation and Operations Workshop
  • Blue Platter Saturday (October)
  • Interactions Magazine Article on CUC FabLab (October)
  • FAB OFF Invitational Event (October)
  • Workshop: McGrath, R. E., Rischau, J. & Craig, A. B. 2011. Personalized Manufacturing Meets Embodied Computing. In Workshop on Semi-Automated Creativity at ACM Creativity and Computation, Atlanta


  • United States Fab Lab Network Conference, Presentation, Fox Valley, WI (January)
  • UIUC Public Engagement Symposium, Champaign, IL (April)
  • Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, Champaign, IL, once a week for six weeks (July)
  • Fab6 Conference Amsterdam, Netherlands, Presentation (August)
  • Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, Demonstration of Fab Lab, Fairbanks, AL (October)
  • Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Fab labs offer possible boon to rural villages (October)
  • Video conference with Congress, Capitol Mall in Washington, DC (October)
  • Tundra Times Article: CUCFL In The News: AFN convention to introduce ‘fab lab’ (October)
  • Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab, Formal Opening, featured speaker Neil Gershenfeld, Director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and founder of the Global Fab Lab Network (November)
  • Fermi Lab Demonstration of Fab Lab (November)
  • Daily Illini: Local Fab Lab gives tools to innovation to Champaign-Urbana (November)


  • United States Fab Lab Network Conference,  Presentation, Fox Valley, WI (January)