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The Maker Movement comes to State College

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Photo by MARGARET COOK// VOICES Staff Writer

John Stitzinger, founder of The Make Space, carefully removes a plastic creation from the RepRap 3D printer in the workspace.

 

The Maker Movement, a growing community of tech-inspired DIYers, has made its way to State College and found a home at The Make Space, one of the many hackerspaces popping up all over the US.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “hackerspace” as a place in which people with an interest in computing or technology can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment and knowledge.

People who gather at hackerspaces are known as hackers, but eschew the Webster’s definition of “who illegally gain access to and sometimes tamper with information in a computer system.” In his Make magazine blog article “Is it a Hackerspace, Makerspace, TechShop, or FabLab?” Gui Cavalcanti explains that the popular definition of hacker is transforming to mean someone “who makes existing objects do something unexpected.” Other labels for frequenters of hackerspaces include makers, DIYers and tinkerers, although subtle distinctions do exist among them.

 

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Photo by MARGARET COOK // VOICES Staff Writer

Members Mike Ghen (L) and Roger Daugherty (R) troubleshoot an Arduino Mega 2560 with a breadboard and laptop.

 

John Stitzinger, a lifelong tinkerer and computer engineer, was inspired by the communal atmosphere of established hackerspaces that had become a breeding ground for invention and creativity worldwide and wanted to start one in State College.

Stitzinger got that opportunity in 2012, when a representative from Innoblue, a PSU student-led group that supports entrepreneurialism, offered to share its workspace at 141 S. Fraser Street, which Innoblue was renting at no cost from the Borough of State College. Mr. Stitzinger and a group of other like-minded individuals then set to work creating the by-laws, building the membership and planning the use of the shared space which would become The Make Space.

Innoblue eventually moved out, and nearly two years after its founding, The Make Space has become a hub of community collaboration, with an emphasis on technology-related hacking, or tinkering, projects. It houses equipment such as drills, saws, 3-D printers, a vinyl cutter, a sewing machine, electronic parts, art supplies, and a tool lending library.

The Make Space’s schedule is filled with weekly workshops, meetings and help sessions. Each Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. members hold an open house for prospective members and members of the community to learn more about the space, as well as an informal general meeting to discuss new items of business.

Show-and-Tell, held on the first Friday of each month, allows members and non-members alike the chance to win a free month’s membership for presenting the “coolest” thing – whether it be their latest project, an awesome website or their original artwork. Other regular uses of the space include Bitcoin meetings, microelectronics and drone workshops, 3D printer training, arts and crafts nights and a help session for PSU Computer Science and Engineering’s CMPSC 121 course.

The Make Space has an annual budget of approximately $3,500, which covers utilities, internet and taxes. The equipment and materials have been donated, although sales of snacks contribute modestly to the purchase of materials, but the membership fees pay the bills.

Membership is $25 each month for individuals or groups, with a modest student discount. But the members are not in this for the money. Instead, they are more interested in building a community of hackers, makers and DIYers. Members are given a key to the front door with 24/7 access to the space, and may invite guests, who are not charged admission.

In fact, any time The Make Space is hosting a meeting or workshop, members of the community are welcomed to utilize the space, equipment and materials at no charge.

But members of the Make Space and other hackerspaces are about more than just meetings and tinkering: they are making a positive impact on business and society.

“I have seen the development of many new products that have begun to change the world. Each of them was started because of cheap access to the powerful tools of the industrial revolution combined with a platform (makerspace) designed to encourage their success,” says Mark Hatch, co-founder of the hackerspace TechShop, in his Forbes magazine article “Makers are Radically Changing the World…Already.”

Mr. Hatch states that the prototype for Square, the white fob that attaches to smart phones and transforms them into credit card terminals, was created at TechShop. A Stanford student group also used TechShop to fabricate an infant incubator blanket designed to protect premature babies in third-world countries from dying of hypothermia, called Embrace. The blankets are donated to populations in need through a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

In that spirit, The Make Space has fostered invention that could lead to a greener planet and economic change. Mike Ghen, a founding member and PSU student of computer engineering, stated that the PSU chapter of the Engineers for a Sustainable World utilized the local hackerspace’s resources in order to build a completely solar-powered smoothie cart which the group hopes will help business owners in developing countries sell the product by more cost-effective and energy-efficient means, as reported by an Oct. 15, 2013 Penn State press release.

Members of The Make Space want to continue fostering that kind of ingenuity through their vision to expand. Mr. Stitzinger joked that although it’s hard to find, its location near to the university is ideal.

Mr. Ghen said he wants to see the Fraser Street location remain a computer lab, meeting space and small workshop area, but also wants to acquire a second warehouse-type space to use as a machine shop. Mr. Stitzinger further noted that he hopes to offer more classes and to attract a greater variety of makers to the space.

One visit to The Make Space will reveal why Steven Kurutz in his New York Times article “One Big Workbench” wrote “The atmosphere at a hacker space is a bit like finding yourself in an episode of ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ There is unabashed geeking-out on science and technology, and an enthusiasm for making that is infectious.”.

 

The Make Space has a list of donation requests that would help it expand:

Table/band/radial arm saws, drill presses, lathes, shears, grinders, welders, presses

Hand tools

Logic analyzers, volt meters, soldering irons

Laser cutter

CNC milling machine

Water/plasma cutter.

Computer controlled knitting machine, quilting machine

LCD monitors/TVs

Interesting electronics/cameras

Audio equipment, speakers, lighting equipment

 

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Photo by MARGARET COOK // VOICES Staff Writer

The Make Space features a number of fabrication tools, including this RepRap 3D printer that Stitzinger built himself. 3D printers can print many objects in various types, shapes and colors of plastics.

 

 

By MARGARET COOK

VOICES Staff Writer

margaretellen81@yahoo.com

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