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The University of Southern California boasts a wealth of facilities and resources, but there’s only one place on campus where a student can build a six-foot dragon: the maker space at the USC Iovine and Young Academy.
That was how student Jacob Surovsky acquainted himself with the Academy’s fabrication facilities. “Before starting at the Academy I had never used any rapid prototyping tools like 3D printers or laser cutters, but as I began to explore what they were capable of, I quickly became hooked,” Surovsky said.
And so, in his first months at the Academy, Surovsky designed a dragon’s skeleton in Illustrator, laser-cut plywood, 3D-printed custom costume pieces, and sewed together a dragon that draped across his shoulders like a reptilian stole. “I decided to build a really ambitious Halloween costume as an excuse to get comfortable using the maker space on campus,” he explained. Surovsky learned by exploring: the very essence of a maker space.
Now, with the opening of Iovine and Young Hall and its Digital Fabrication Lab, Surovsky and his classmates have even more tools at their disposal. The Academy’s maker space is fit for a wealth of projects: it features a 2D/3D print area, a wood shop, a metal shop, an electronics and textile shop, a spray painting booth, a section for composites and plastics, as well as a finishing room to make the prototypes look sharp.
Jacob Patapoff, the digital fabrication lab specialist, manages the Academy’s two maker spaces. According to Patapoff, the unique virtue of Academy’s digital fabrication lab is that it offers both breadth and depth of equipment: it is unheard of for a university campus facility to boast nearly four dozen distinct pieces of equipment across six areas. The sheer scope of what is available allows for a wide range of materials and workflows for prototype creation and testing. “Where one area or machine might be limited, another can handle it,” Patapoff pointed out with pride.
The wealth of tools in the maker spaces are intended to enable undirected creative experimentation, not merely facilitate a specific class project or research. “I think that a program that attracts makers and doers like the Academy must commit to making the act of creation accessible,” said Surovsky. “Having a space to make a mess, explore, and experiment is essential for the pursuit of innovation.” If the deep stacks of Doheny library satisfy the curious student’s pursuit of knowledge, a maker space is its counterpart as students pursue creation.
This is not to say that Academy students are thrown in the deep end to sink or swim. In addition to maintaining the equipment, Patapoff educates students on safety and proper use. While some students enter the Academy already knowing how to use 3D printers, welders or CNC machines, others have never handled a power tool in their life. The Academy’s product design classes also use the maker space as a lab. Last spring, one class learned how to create prototypes by designing and creating components for their own custom game as students used the equipment to fabricate collapsing basketball hoops, paddles and other game pieces.
Each student uses the maker space differently, and for Patapoff, that is the reward. “It’s really wonderful to see how distinct and individual each project is – from wearable tech to projection mapped installations and AR interactions. That’s what I really enjoy here – the range in types of projects and the challenges that come with them,” says Patapoff.
As for the students, they are already excited about the potential of Iovine and Young Hall’s new lab. Surovsky admits to peeking in the windows of the new lab before the new building even opened, excited to get his hands on new tools.
“The way we think shapes what we create, but the tools we can create with shape how we think. By expanding the resources available to us, the Academy is expanding our horizons as creators.”