A prototype of a medical device; a sign for an MIT campus garden; a 3-D-printed adjustable spoon; a motorized skateboard—these are just a few examples of what MIT students and community members are creating in MIT makerspaces. What else to expect from a place whose motto is “mens et manus” (“mind and hand”)? Here, theory and knowledge are transformed into practical experience, problem-solving skills, and potentially world-changing products.
The spirit of making is central to MIT’s residential education and critical to the Institute’s innovation ecosystem, which supports the creation of practical solutions that have a positive, real-world impact. MIT data show that men and women seek opportunities to use makerspace resources in equal numbers. MIT launched Project Manus in 2015 to give students—many of whom were making things in their dorms or off campus—access to state-of-the-art facilities for like-minded people to come together to work on projects and solutions across different disciplines. Makerspaces are also included in many student residences by popular demand; the new Vassar Street residence, slated to open in 2020, will also include a maker yard for even more experimental space.
The Metropolitan Storage Warehouse—better known as the Met Warehouse or the Met—has been a formidable presence at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street in Cambridge for more than a century. The distinctive fortress-like building has been owned by MIT since 1966. MIT’s vision is that it will begin its new life as the Institute’s “design hub” in 2022. An approximately 17,000-square-foot community makerspace—the Met makerspace—will be the central feature of the first floor of the Met, becoming the largest academic makerspace of its kind in existence and the first makerspace at MIT dedicated to making all resources in the space 100% accessible now and in the future.
The Met makerspace will be a game changer for making at MIT. This centralized, free-form innovation nexus will be a destination for students, alumni, faculty, and staff of all departmental and school affiliations. While the Met Warehouse will also be the new home of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, the makerspace, which will be operated by Project Manus and student workers, will not be tied to a particular department and will function more like a library or a gym than a classroom. Whether visitors are working on projects related to research, class work, entrepreneurship, or just for fun, the Met makerspace is open.
“Making at MIT is part of our DNA, and the Met makerspace will be the big community space for the Institute. When makers and entrepreneurs mix together from all disciplines, the result is fantastic and amazing solutions. We don’t have a nexus right now where that can happen. The Met makerspace will be the place where the MIT maker community can come together and learn to collaborate and form connections, and that’s going to be a hugely powerful thing.”
—Martin Culpepper SM ’97, PhD ’00, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Maker Czar
Through multiple initiatives, Project Manus is fostering a broader maker community and inspiring making beyond MIT through collaborations with peer universities, industry, and governments, and the Met makerspace will be a key part of that endeavor. For example, through telecommunication technology, the Met makerspace will link to the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node, a collaborative space that aims to connect the MIT community with unique resources—including advanced fabrication capabilities—and other opportunities in Hong Kong and the neighboring Pearl River Delta.
The Met makerspace will vastly increase MIT students’ access to the resources required to iterate and drive world-changing ideas toward realization and adoption by the marketplace. It will also be a low-stakes environment for students to let their creativity run free. No matter what a visitor’s goal may be, the Met makerspace will have the tools and resources they need to reach it.
People—students, faculty, alumni, and staff—are the driving force behind MIT’s vibrant maker culture and community. Time and again, it is clear how makerspaces foster student success by supporting the development of confidence, perseverance, collaboration, and imagination—not to mention students’ useful, quirky, and innovative projects.
For that reason, it is important to foster and strengthen the maker community across campus. Hands-on education changes the way students learn and transforms the way they think, particularly in today’s innovation-driven world.
The “maker renaissance” at MIT has led to the creation of many new makerspaces—some specialized, some general. Machine shops specialize in training, mentoring, and making that’s related to the creation of complex systems and finely detailed components, supervised by skilled machinist educators. Project makerspaces primarily support class projects and contain resources such as meeting space to facilitate collaboration. Community makerspaces prioritize unrestricted making, stewarded by community members who educate new users in safe making practices.