Fab Lab is short for Fabrication Laboratory. We are a specific kind of Makerspace.
Physically, our Fab Lab is an advanced workshop space for rapid prototyping and computer-based design that consists of a suite of fabrication machines, including a laser engraver, CNC routers, 3D printers and scanners, electronic cutters, digital textile machines, small board electronics, graphic drawing tablets, advanced software and more. We collaborate with several community partners locally to provide similar tools at a variety of other locations, including public libraries and after-school centers.
Culturally, the CUC Fab Lab is based on a community of practice, people often referred to as Makers, who are united by the desire to share knowledge, collaborate and to “make almost anything.” Our lab is open to the public, employs both staff and volunteers and greatly values both diversity and play, as we believe these are necessary for innovation. Our network and patrons include people of all kinds: students, teens, families, entrepreneurs, artists, hobbyists, gamers, hackers, engineers, scientists, teachers, librarians, activists and more. We welcome those interested to join the conversation and discover more about who we are!
Functionally, Fab Labs encourage people to become makers by exploring the entire design process. They do this by providing tools, human assistance and inspiration that enable people to go from (1) concepts and questions to (2) digital designs and models to (3) physical prototypes and redesigns to (4) a final product they can share, which may in turn help others begin the cycle. This process is rather unique because it is possible for people with little technological expertise to engage in design thinking to develop complex creations using technology and knowledge previously only available to expert artists and engineers.
Organizationally, our Fab Lab is primarily a public engagement program of the Illinois Informatics Institute. We work with a variety of units, including The Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Department of Business Administration, School of Art and Design and Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences to collaborate on grants, facilitate classes and support research. Although many places might be referred to as a fab lab, our Fab Lab is part of the global network connected to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms. This collaborative network connects institutions around the world with common tools, software platforms and ideologies to facilitate the open exchange of ideas and designs.
Philosophically, we believe the open source ethos of the Fab Lab inspires interest in art and design, computing, architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, and technical trades. We think community access, provided at a reasonable cost and in cooperation with the global Fab Lab network, builds local capacities by enabling personal growth, economic development and cross-cultural understanding. Activities at the Fab Lab and our partner sites embody the principle of life-long learning by cultivating digital literacies, including cognitive skills like computational, divergent or critical thinking, but also related cultural competencies and other underlying traits that prove fundamental to holistic learning, such as civic engagement or confidence with art and technology.