Providing an impressive new maker space for young minds and their families, The Carnegie Science Center’s Fab Lab is gearing up just in time for back to school.

Located in the Highmark SportsWorks building adjacent to the Science Center, the lab will house a playground of equipment for local invention and innovation. Devices like laser cutters, a 3-D printer, CNC milling machines, a large format printer, electronics workbench equipment, two mini-mill/3-D scanners and even sewing and embroidery machines will be available to makers of all ages.

The lab is being funded by Moon Township-based Chevron through a three-year donation in excess of $.5 million to the Fab Foundation – a nonprofit started at MIT’s Center for Bits & Atoms Fab Lab Program to provide access to the tools, knowledge and financial means to help anyone create just about anything. Chevron’s donation will go toward purchasing equipment and providing staff and their training for the Science Center’s Fab Lab, explains Ann Metzger, co-director of the Carnegie Science Center.

“The Fab Lab will be a workshop brimming with opportunities for learning and innovation. We will be able to introduce young people to the digital equipment that so many STEM jobs rely on,” Metzger says. “The Fab Lab adds a whole new dimension to our partnership with formal education, particularly for schools that don’t have these digital devices on their premises.”

Its official grand opening is August 18, and beginning in September, the Science Center will be offering workshops to visitors and school groups on how to use all of these “toys.”

“The workshops are also designed to give basic safety and operational information about the devices,” says Liz Whitewolf, manager of the Fab Lab.

Further enhancing the platform for invention, those completing the workshops will earn Digital Badges through The Sprout Fund led Pittsburgh City of Learning initiative, providing eligibility for the Fab Lab’s evening and weekend “open lab” times.

“Pittsburgh is vastly becoming one of the huge maker cities. I think having our maker space located at the Science Center will draw in people and maybe somebody who hasn’t had the opportunity to experience these machines yet,” Whitewolf says.

Using a CNC vinyl cutter, kids can make their own stickers or t-shirt screens. Future fiber artists can design images to embroider. Used non-traditionally, a sewing machine with conductive thread can produce electronic circuits, she adds.

Through a live feed, the lab will be part of a global network of Fab Labs in 30 countries.

“It will help us to stay involved with the maker community throughout the world, but also help if we need some guidance,” Whitewolf says.

And, also supported by the Chevron funding, the Science Center is revving up a Mobile Fab Lab – outfitted in a 30-foot truck – to take the same equipment it has in the lab at the Science Center to area schools.

“We’ll be parking the truck at schools for a week at a time and getting the kids really involved in this. We want everyone in that school to get their hands in that trailer,” Whitewolf says.

“Through our partnership with Carnegie Science Center’s Chevron STEM Center, we are proud to provide access to digital fabrication tools to thousands of students in the tri-state region. Fab Labs enable students to experience hands-on, applied STEM learning opportunities and help them develop the practical and critical thinking skills they will need to be the innovators of the future,” says Brenda Cosola, spokesperson for Chevron.

Chevron also announced earlier this month that the company is contributing $900,000 over a three-year period to its long-term support as the title sponsor of the Science Center’s Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development.

“The need for STEM education regionally has never been more acute, with thousands of jobs going unfilled for lack of STEM-skilled workers,” Metzger says, “It’s extremely gratifying that Chevron recognizes this need and will continue to support our STEM Center so generously.”

Laurie Bailey

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.