Walk in to UAB’s MakerSpace, and you’re hit by a cacophony of sound. 3-D printers whizz and buzz, carefully crafting one’s imagination. There are students on computers, designing and prototyping their ideas, creating everything from Pokemon to miniature houses. Careers in 3-D printing and design are growing, and college students are taking note. Students and faculty alike now have a place to learn and explore these new and innovative ideas.
Biomedical engineering major Forrest Satterfield is one of the makerspace’s founders.
“So we’ve loaded the 3-D model into the 3-D printer. So now what we are doing is selecting the G code, which tells the printer how to move and now it’s doing it and that’s it.”
The printer quickly creates lines and layers them on top of each other, over and over until a shape takes form. Satterfield says any UAB student who wants make models of their ideas can freely come in, create designs on a computer, and send them to the 3-D printer. Satterfield says he always wanted to learn about making 3-D printed prostheses and orthotics, but needed a hands-on and affordable way to do it.
“But because of course I’m a student you have a limited budget, so you have to find, you know, what’s the cheapest way to prototype something and how can I efficiently do that.”
Students like Satterfield used to have to invest in their own equipment, which was impossible for most people. Then he became a University Innovation Fellow – a national community of students focusing on gaining knowledge to compete in the tech economy. Satterfield says he asked his mentors what he could do to increase innovation at UAB. They suggested a makerspace for students.
“So it’s a minimum investment for the university that tells them who’s coming in and using that, how are they using it, so that we can better build and expand from there.”
From there, his mentors connected him with resources at the university. They planned over the semester last fall to set it up. The MakerSpace debuted last semester, open to faculty and students. Public health major Kane Agan jumped on the opportunity, and has enjoyed watching the spaces’s equipment lineup grow.
“We already have high tech computers, 3-D printers, circuit builders and now were getting new things all the time. We just now have the capabilities to do augmented and virtual reality and as version 2.0 opens up we’re going to have a lot more in store.”
Agan likes to spread the word and tell students what’s possible.“So right now what we can do is 3-D printing in a number of materials. You can get a kind of standard composite plastic if you like that, a lot of that stuff we have on hand in a variety of colors if you need to order something we can also do that”
What’s special about these 3-D printers is that they can print more that just the standard PLA, which stands for poly lactic acid, a kind of plastic material.
“The way that we do wood and metal is, it is actually mixed in with PLA but it requires the knowledge to be able to heat up to an even higher temperature than it normally would so you’re able to do that with the 3-D printers.”
Agan says they’ve never turned anyone down. The makerspace is for everyone. “I would say the biggest point of the maker space is come in and use it. If you have an idea it doesn’t matter if you were undeclared, a theater major, a business major, engineering major we want to work with you we want to provide a service for you and we want to be the tools that you need to Material to advance your own project near vision.”
Satterfield says when he graduates, he wants to start a company where he can create affordable 3-D prosthetic limbs. Kane Agan says he wants to get a PhD and help develop clean energy with the UN environmental commission. Both say, with the help of the UAB MakerSpace, they and other tech minded students are moving closer to achieving their goals.