FabLab gives students cutting-edge experience

FabLab Manager David Bryan (center) works with Will Guthrie ’16 (left) and Tanya Mittal ’16 on zeroing (finding the home position) a computer numeric control mill in the metal shop of the new FabLab. Both students, members of NCSSM’s award-winning robotics team, have been trained on the lab tools as work service students.

Students at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics have the opportunity to build chemistry models, craft mechanical parts for robotics projects, print three-dimensional objects and more thanks to the new Peter T. Haughton Fabrication and Innovation Lab.

“It’s a comprehensive lab, bringing capabilities from woodworking to metalworking, plastics, and electronics,” says David Bryan, FabLab manager. Among the tools featured in the new facility are a computer numeric control, or CNC; three-axis mill and lathe in the metal shop; three-axis large-format and small-format CNC routers in the wood shop; and three-dimensional printers, laser cutter, and CNC embroidery machine in the digilab. “It’s one of the best labs I’ve ever seen, it compares to the best graduate-level lab.”

The lab is the brainchild of Carl Ryden ’89, chair of the NCSSM Foundation. Ryden sought to honor his friend and classmate, Pete Haughton ‘89. Haughton held degrees in engineering, mathematics, public policy, and business and was working in sustainable real estate development when he died unexpectedly in 2006. Ryden envisioned an interdisciplinary space that would foster the cross-pollination of art, craftsmanship, and science.

“Pete was incredibly gifted at mathematics, but he found his greatest pleasure in using his genius to create beautiful and useful things,” says Ryden. He and Haughton both graduated from MIT’s Leaders for Manufacturing program, a combination of graduate engineering and business education that exposed them to MIT’s famed Fab Lab, a benchmark for such facilities.

NCSSM’s newest lab facility answers a growing call to expose more youth to the hands-on experiences of measuring and cutting materials to create things. “Engineering education has, for a long time, focused on working in the digital space,” says Bryan. High school technical education, as in “shop class,” steadily has been replaced by computer labs. Digital skills were seen as more valuable while woodworking, metalworking, and other such skills were seen as vocational.

“The FabLab lets students get their hands on physical things and better understand the consequences of decisions that they make digitally,” says Bryan.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity for students across our state — through our residential, online, and summer programs — to experience such sophisticated equipment,” says NCSSM Foundation President Katie Wagstaff. The FabLab also offers a prime model of a public/private partnership, she notes. State funding allowed NCSSM to renovate the one-story brick building, used as the assembly hall in the school’s earliest days. Private support, led by Ryden, has helped to equip the lab. Major donors include Ryden; Michael Epstein, a business partner of Ryden’s; Kristina Haughton, Peter’s mother; and Jeremy Mario, a Duke classmate of Haughton’s, through his Mario Family Foundation. Alan English ’99, brand marketing manager at Stanley Black & Decker, facilitated the contribution of tools and equipment.

Bryan joined NCSSM last spring to manage the facility, supervise student projects from their core classes, and teach classes that integrate the lab with computer-aided design. An industrial designer, he has a background in industrial and systems engineering and computer science. Most recently Bryan led research and development for ShopBot Tools, the company that produces the robotic equipment installed in the FabLab. Previously he worked in exhibit design and fabrication, using digital design and robotic tools.

“These are very marketable skills that will set our students apart,” Bryan says. “More employers in engineering and related fields want to see that candidates have at least some exposure to hands-on work, if not experience.”

Want to support NCSSM’s FabLab? Contribute here towards the costs of  materials, equipment, and staffing. Choose the “Peter T. Haughton Fabrication and Innovation Lab” as your gift designee.


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