By Russell Finelsen – 10th Grade, Bethel Park High School
In a room behind a green wall in the Highmark SportsWorks building at the Carnegie Science Center, nine students worked diligently to create a box. However, this was not just any ordinary box. This box was to be created by lasers, according to the students’ own designs.
This workshop was part of the Carnegie Science Center Fab Lab, a program that teaches students about all sorts of technology. Even though the idea is bound to do well in Pittsburgh, it actually started 570 miles to the northeast.
“The idea started at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology],” said Liz Whitewolf, the Fab Lab Technical and Education Manager at Carnegie Science Center. “The main idea was that anybody could make anything.”
On July 21, students made 3-D boxes via three computer programs. Students first went to makercase.com, where they set the design of their box. They manipulated the design so the height, width, and depth of the box were each at most three inches.
“The width is the most important part of the box, because it sets the foundation of the box,” Whitewolf said.
Whitewolf also told the students to change the edge joints from flat to finger. Finger joints are more similar to puzzle pieces, while flat edges are just flat. “Flat joints are too boring,” she explained.
After converting their plans into a 2-D model, the students opened their designs on Inkscape, a program which allowed them to add text, pictures, and shapes to their designs. However, there were specific rules for the text and pictures.
The text had to be in an Impact font with a red outline and no fill. In addition, pictures had to be black and white. “The laser cannot burn different colors,” Whitewolf said.
Students added their plans to Google Drive and into the laser cutter machine, which cut the design on a piece of wood. After the laser cutting machine was finished, the students took the pieces apart and assembled them into a 3-D box.
Throughout the workshop, students learned a lot about computers and design. “Today, students learned about Inkscape, a free design program, laser cutting, and circuits,” Whitewolf said.
The students agreed. “I learned a lot about computers, and I liked how Inkscape worked,” said Rachel, a student participating in the workshop.
However, the workshop was just a part of something bigger. “This is a workshop we have scheduled in order to develop curriculum for our full Fab Lab, [which starts after August 18],” Whitewolf said. According to Whitewolf, the full Fab Lab will feature workshops like this one that teach students the ins and outs of different technologies.
Whitewolf also explained how the workshop would help her to create an effective program: “This test run teaches me how to facilitate the program to make it better [for the students].”
Even though Fab Lab is just beginning in Pittsburgh, the program is open all around the country and world. In addition to teaching students with any level of experience how to use various technologies like laser cutting and robotics, the Pittsburgh Fab Lab is also planning to create a mobile lab to travel to various schools in the area.
Russell Finelsen is a rising sophomore at Bethel Park High School. He is the editor-in-chief of his school’s newspaper, Hawk Eye, where he has written over 150 articles and is a member of the Quill and Scroll Society for Student Journalists. He enjoys reading, travelling, and watching sports.