The fab lab network provides access to space, equipment, and training to makers worldwide, with over 2,500 centers in 125 countries. Each lab offers community access to fabrication equipment such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and computer-controlled milling machines. Some labs have specific themes, such as sustainability or empowering students. The fab lab network was created by MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld and his late colleague Mel King, who saw the potential for the fab lab to empower communities. The network has expanded through grassroots interest from communities around the world, and its most visible feature is advanced fabrication equipment, but its common energy is what visitors often talk about.
As seen on MIT News, a global community of makers is benefiting from the fab lab network, which provides the space, equipment, and training to make (almost) anything. The fab lab network includes more than 2,500 centers across 125 countries, including places as remote as northern Norway and as populated as the city centers of Cairo and Barcelona. Each lab provides community access to equipment such as laser cutters, computer-controlled milling machines, and 3D printers, along with training to use the equipment.
Some fab labs emphasize themes like sustainability or bridging community divides, while others focus on strengthening the local workforce or empowering students to become activists. But the similarities between fab labs may strike visitors more than the differences. And although advanced fabrication equipment is the labs’ most visible feature, people most often talk about the common energy they feel when surrounded by creators pursuing their passions.
MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld, who is also director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), created the first fab lab with the late Mel King, a legendary civil rights activist and former MIT adjunct professor who saw the fab lab’s potential to empower communities. From there, the expansion into a wider network was driven by grassroots interest from far-flung communities around the globe.
Gershenfeld and his colleagues launched CBA in 2001 to study the boundary between computer science and physical science, and with National Science Foundation (NSF) support they created a digital fabrication research facility with equipment to make objects of any size, from the scale of atoms to buildings. But it would take a lifetime of existing courses at MIT to learn to use all of the machines, so they began teaching a new course, MAS.863 (How To Make (almost) Anything). The course has been one of the most popular at MIT since its inception.
Inspired by that response, in 2003 Gershenfeld met with King to explore an outreach project for the NSF. Following his retirement from MIT, King, who passed away in March, had created the South End Technology Center (SETC) to expand access to technology in Boston communities, and he saw the lab as a powerful way to further that mission.
“Neil said, ‘Hey Mel, you should bring your kids over to the lab,’” says Sherry Lassiter, who has been the director of the fab foundation since its inception. “They’ll love it. And Mel said, ‘I don’t have any kids.’ And Neil said, ‘Yes, you do. They’re the kids in the South End of Boston.’”
The idea was to create a community-based space where people could learn how to use the equipment to make what they needed. King’s vision was to create a space where people could learn how to use technology to improve their lives, to create jobs, and to build community. The first fab lab was established at the SETC in 2003, and it quickly became a hub for community-driven innovation.
The fab lab network has since grown into a global network of makerspaces, with each lab providing access to equipment and training to use the equipment. The fab labs emphasize themes like sustainability, community building, and workforce development. The labs are open to everyone, from students and artists to entrepreneurs and professionals.
The fab lab network has become an important re for communities around the world, providing access to technology that can help improve lives, create jobs, and build community. The network has also become an important re for students, artists, and entrepreneurs who are looking to turn their ideas into reality. The fab lab network is a testament to the power of community-driven innovation and the potential of technology to empower people around the world.