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n z creating matters BY KATHRYN GALLIEN


“Making things is an essential part of being human,” according to Leah Buechley ’97. When Skidmore’s new Center for Integrated Sciences opens, it will include a special area for making things across the disciplines: the Idea Lab.


Buechley, an engineer and designer who formerly direct- ed the High-Low Tech research group at MIT’s Media Lab, is well known for making things at the intersection of art and science. One recent creation is the LilyPad Arduino toolkit, a microcontroller board for wearables and e-textiles. Speak- ing at the Rome Maker Faire last fall, Buechley sounded as if she were de- scribing Skidmore’s Idea Lab: “Making is about technology and engineering and science; but it’s also about design and art and craft and craftsmanship. Making is about innovation; it’s about problem-solving and utility and con- tributing something useful to the world; it’s about commerce and capi talism. But it’s also, and equally im portant, about beauty and truth and poetry, about things that are mysterious and delight- ful and wondrous.” Skidmore’s 1,800-square-foot Idea Lab is being planned to offer students guidance and tools to devise, prototype, and even market their ideas. Chemistry professor Kim Frederick says it will be “really cutting-edge and fun,” providing 3-D printers and scanners for digital fab- rication, sewing machines and fabrics, hand and power tools, wood, metal, and more. During planning for the new sci- ence building, environmental scientist and associate dean Karen Kellogg recalls, “we kept hearing from students about


TECHNOLOGISTS AND MAKERS LEAH BUECHLEY ’97 AND ALEXEI ERCHAK ’97


the need for a space where they could make things.” And she says, “I can imagine projects across the whole campus that could benefit from this.”


Management and business faculty, for example, are keen- ly interested. Harder Professor Cathy Hill notes that “while art or physics majors have fabrication resources available to them, business students do not. As the Freirich Business Plan Competition demonstrates each year, Skidmore stu- dents are “creative well beyond whatever their major is,” so Hill looks forward to the Idea Lab supporting business en-


22 SCOPE WINTER 2014


trepreneurs “together with social and natural scientists, artists, and humanists who invent and create things.” Planners see it as a network, with a creative director who can connect students to other campus facilities and people as well. The goal is to bring together people with different inter- ests and skills—students, faculty, staff, and local community members—to, as Hill puts it, “really tap into the essence of what it means to be creative at Skid- more.” Frederick too sees the Idea Lab as “quintessentially Skidmore. All that we are, in the unique cross-disciplinary na- ture of our students and faculty and staff, could be embodied in the Idea Lab.” Alexei Erchak ’97, an entrepreneur with some 100 patents in light-emitting diodes and other technologies (his latest startup is NuSocket), likes the Idea Lab concept. “A cross-disciplinary environ- ment is where most innovation comes from, because people are forced to oper- ate outside of their comfort zones and be exposed to different ways of think- ing,” he says. “That is in essence a de- scription of the entire Skidmore experi- ence” (which he credits for “a good chunk of my entrepreneurial nature”), so the Idea Lab “is a natural expansion of the college.” Buechley, who discovered the “joys of tinkering with electronics” in grad school, agrees: “Many of the most excit-


ing intellectual and creative opportunities today are at the in- tersection of disciplines. And Skidmore is exceptionally well positioned to nurture interdisciplinary exploration—to help artists and designers work fluently with scientific ideas, to help scientists and engineers think broadly and critically about their work, and to support and encourage students whose interests defy disciplinary categorization.” It won’t be long before new generations of makers like


Erchak and Buechley will have a campus space for bringing their ideas to life.


MARK MORELLI


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