In a small room on the first floor of Homer Babbidge Library, University of Connecticut sophomore Justin Schroeder leans over a glass-topped machine the size of a mini fridge.
He presses a button and the machine whirs to life—a laser beam flicks back and forth, etching a design onto a glass mug—as library IT director Tony Molloy looks on.
“That’s so awesome,” Molloy says, grinning.
It’s a trial run of a laser engraver that will become part of a new maker studio set to open in the library this month.
The new space, slated to be unveiled at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12, also features a vinyl cutter, six 3D printers ranging in size up to one as large as a vending machine and other tools and software for students interested in learning to design and build using advanced tech.
“We can offer some of the basic things that aren't easily accessible on campus for people,” said Molloy, who oversees the maker studio.
Molloy said the space isn’t only for students who have used tools like 3D printers before.
“What we're trying to do is create a space that’s not intimidating,” Molloy said. “We really want to bring people from all the different disciplines on campus and get them in there working together.”
Students have created everything from trombone mouthpieces to aerial drones in the library’s 3D printing lab, a predecessor to the new studio, Molloy said.
Schroeder, who works in the studio and is a member of UConn’s 3D printing club, said he uses the machines to create items he might otherwise have to buy.
“I’ll print some stuff that I need for backpacking, like a carabiner,” he said.
Molloy said the maker studio will expand its offerings later this semester, with plans to add a sewing machine, electronics workbench and hand tools like cordless drills.
The studio’s current home is small—a repurposed breakout room in the library’s northwest corner—but that will change soon, Molloy said.
The Auriemma Family Reading Room behind the iDesk on the library’s ground floor is set to be converted into a makerspace, with the capacity to handle bigger and better tools that require custom-built external ventilation, according to Molloy.
In the meantime, Molloy said his goal is to get as many people to use the equipment as possible.
“We want to have cool programs, like we want to bring people in and do simple projects,” he said.
For most projects, he said, students won’t have to pay to use the machines, which are funded by the student technology fee.
“To the extent that we can, I want the barrier of entry for this place to be zero,” he said. Students might be asked to volunteer at the studio in exchange for working on projects that use more materials.
The library maker studio will also partner with the makerspace in the NextGen residence hall to share training and other resources, according to Molloy.
For Schroeder, the maker studio is about allowing students to explore and build with tools they might not otherwise be able to access.
“I really just want to see people come in and be interested about it,” he said.
Back in the studio, the laser engraver powers down as Schroeder looks over the newly-etched glass.
It didn’t come out quite right—a small part of the lettering was cut off.
As Schroeder begins listing off potential fixes in preparation for the studio’s grand opening, Molloy appears unconcerned.
“That’s okay,” he says. “This is how we learn.”
Charlie Smart is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.