Penn Lends Support to National ‘Maker Movement’

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Media Contact:Evan Lerner | | 215-573-6604June 18, 2014

In conjunction with the first White House Maker Faire being held today, the University of Pennsylvania signed a joint letter along with more than 150 other institutions, pledging support to foster a “generation of makers.” The letter details the need for young tinkerers, inventors and entrepreneurs to bring life to future innovations.    

The University is also helping to celebrate the first national "Day of Making," where fabrication facilities around the country are opening their doors and showing off the cutting-edge technologies that are democratizing the act of making.

As part of this event, the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science will be holding a sneak preview of its new additive manufacturing facility, slated to open in the fall. The AddLab, made possible by an anonymous $250,000 gift, will feature a suite of state-of-the-art 3-D printing tools.

“Penn's founder Benjamin Franklin was an author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, engineer, politician and printer,” said Robert Carpick, chair of the mechanical engineering department. “While we can only imagine what he would think of today's revolution in manufacturing that is being brought about by the advent of 3-D printing, we are sure that he'd be proud to see Penn making its mark in the area.”

With increasing access to 3-D printers, laser cutters, desktop machine tools and free, user-friendly design software, it has never been easier for Penn students to turn their ideas into physical or digital objects and those objects into products and businesses.   

That process embodies the principles of “Pennovation” and is the focus of a new campuswide tech transfer initiative spearheaded by the Penn Center for Innovation. PCI’s business incubator, UPstart, has a growing portfolio of business based on the technologies envisioned by students, staff and faculty. These ideas come from years of fundamental research, such as with its nanomaterial manufacturing company Graphene Frontiers, but also from maker-inspired contests and competitions, such as the Y-Prize, AppItUP and HACKFest.   

The maker ethos infuses the educational and research aims of the University, as well.

Penn’s new Singh Center for Nanotechology was conceived as a centerpiece of the University’s research enterprise and as a hub of local industrial and commercial activity, with characterization and fabrication facilities open to outside companies.

Realizing ideas and making things that work is a core aspect of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Students must craft a team of robots to compete in a hockey tournament in Design of Mechatronic Systems and work with Arduino circuit boards, a mainstay of the maker movement, in Electrical and Systems Engineering’s intro class, Atoms, Bits, Circuits and Systems. Engineering’s undergraduate education culminates with the Senior Design Competition, where students from all of the School’s disciplines must make a working prototype of an innovative product. The competition has been the birthplace of innovations like Titan Arm, an affordable, lightweight exoskeleton that enhances users strength and PubLock, a system of public bicycle locks that can be opened and closed with a personal digital key.      

A focus on making is something that also crosses departmental and school lines. The Integrated Product Design graduate program draws upon Penn’s School of Design, Engineering and Wharton School, allowing students to earn a master’s degree that merges the disciplines of design, engineering and business for the purpose of creating compelling new products. Its facilities include an Integrated Product Design Studio, which acts a center for community and collaboration. It has desk space, whiteboards, a number of creative supplies and computers with 3-D modeling programs. There is also a PennDesign Fabrication Lab that includes facilities for woodworking and 3-D printing.