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Top right photo, below, Dr. Adrienne Wootters. Bottom right photo, below, Jordan Darling ’18 does some soldering work.

Bowman Hall Adds New Makerspace

03/11/16

Downtown North Adams and Pittsfield each have a makerspace where members of the community may create art. As of this semester, Bowman Hall on the MCLA campus, too, boasts a makerspace, but this creative space features a technological bent.

According to Dr. Adrienne Wootters, a physics professor at MCLA and the creator and director of the campus’s makerspace, the new facility – which opened next to the College’s machine shop in January – is just beginning to be discovered by students.

The weekly drop-in center is open on Tuesday nights, between 6 and 9 p.m. Then, MCLA students, faculty and staff – for no charge – may learn Arduino electronics, an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software; 3-D printing; and machine shop basics to create a wide variety of technical and artistic projects.

“It’s a great space,” Wootters said.

In general, she explained, there are two types of makerspaces – one that’s more arts-based like North Adams’ Main Street Makers’ Mill, which includes printmaking and fiber arts equipment such as relief printing presses, paper cutting machines, several looms for weaving and sewing machines – and another kind of makerspace like the one in Bowman Hall.

Bowman’s new makerspace features an engineering lab primed for robotics with a diverse assortment of electronic components and supplies, and a machine shop that’s outfitted with a lathe, CNC milling machine, 3-D printer, drill press, and more.

While robotics is not her specialty, “Certainly everything in the room will lend itself to that,” Wootters said. “If the students want to come in and build a robot, or some kind of quadcopter, we’ll do that.”

One day soon, Wootters hopes artists will take advantage of this makerspace’s tools to create 3-D art.

“This is a place where you can build great structures using the machine shop and by using technology in your art. You can employ light and use the 3-D printer to make pieces for your sculptures,” Wootters said.

She dreams that, one day, fine arts students may construct science museum installations that could be shared with nearby schools. “If someone is thinking about a kinetic sculpture or any kind of three-dimensional art, come on down. Let’s talk.”

Wootters allows the students to set the agenda for what they’d like to do in the space.

“I’ve given them all sorts of suggestions, and there are all kinds of do-it-yourself sites online where you can make things that are cool,” Wootters explained. “They can do what they want. If they have something they’d like to try, that’s okay.”

Students who are utilizing the space are learning Arduino electronics. The platform allows users to write and download code to microcontroller boards available at the makerspace, and provides a way to create interactive projects – such as a motion-sensing alarm, a spy cam or a drone.

“You can build things that light up and make noise,” Wootters said. “It’s inexpensive and all the software for it is open-source. The whole point is that this is electronics for the people. It’s caught the world by storm. Everyone around the world is making stuff, and for not a lot of money.”

In the fall, MCLA’s introduction to engineering class will be taught in the Makerspace.

Although future plans also include the purchase of a laser cutter, right now, Wootters explained, most of the students are in a learning mode. “We’re going online to learn the basics through tutorials. Others are ready to move on and build musical instruments or electronics that will respond to their voices.

“That’s how you learn – when you build something,” she said. “You can think and dream, and build something fun.”