When you give Dr. Craig Forest an inch, he takes a mile. The mild-mannered Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Georgia Tech helped set up the Invention Studio on the first floor of a nondescript engineering building at the heart of the university’s verdant campus. Founded in 2009, the 3,000 square-foot space grew and grew, eventually taking over the entire lobby and multiple workshops. The Studio, which features 3D printers, laser cutters, injection molding machines, and literally everything else a maker could want, is now a powerhouse and sponsors line up to donate cash to the free, 24-hour hacker space.
“A lot of the students who came out of here have started their own companies. They instantly know how to design and build things,” said Forest as he took me through the studio. There are millions of dollars worth of equipment, all available at all hours, and the studio is entirely student-run with experienced mentors who train newbies on the machinery. Forest says there’s a culture of safety that ensures no one slices off a pinkie on the metal saw or lases an elbow on the cutter.
The layout will be familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a high school wood shop but the tools are much cooler and there’s no grumpy proctor managing the gear. Students can do almost everything in the shop except sell the things they produce – it ensures nobody mass produces a thousand widgets on school hardware – and it’s entirely sponsorship-driven with sponsoring companies getting their pick of the engineers that come out of the program.
Other schools are trying to copy the Invention Studio on their own campuses, a sign that the idea has enormous potential. By bringing tech, academia, and students’ innate creativity together in one place, Georgia Tech has created a clubhouse, hideout, and imaginarium all in one sprawling floor.