Nfld. & Labrador

Robots and laser cutters: New St. John's Makerspace is open for business

St. John’s has a new Makerspace, opened in partnership with the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District to give youth a chance to experiment with 3D printing, robotics, and more.

‘The engagement levels are off the chart’

Jeff Willson, executive director of Brilliant Labs, says Makerspaces give students hands-on, experiential learning about tech. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The Avalon Makerspace held its grand opening Wednesday, making it the 41st location of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In a partnership between Brilliant Labs and the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, the building will host teachers, students and community groups who want to learn about the world of technology and design.

"It gives kids an opportunity to get hands-on and experiential, and solve real-world problems with new technologies," said Jeff Willson, executive director of Brilliant Labs, a group that aims to develop community spaces for digital learning.

A Makerspace is a place where people can learn to use 3D printers, robotics, and other kinds of technology to design and create physical objects. Brilliant Labs has opened 230 Makerspaces in Atlantic Canada, with a location on Strawberry Marsh Road being its latest.

To Willson, part of the building's purpose is to make youth create their own tech, "rather than just kind of think that they can buy technologies from others."

Inspiration is the goal, he said.

"We really want to inspire that next generation of maker, inventor, creator, engineer, researcher."

Government pitches in 

The Avalon Makerspace had its grand opening on Wednesday. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Willson was able to fund all of the equipment, including laser cutters and textile machines, in a partnership with the provincial and federal governments. In recent years, 3D printers and other similar equipment have become more affordable, making the endeavour easier.

Laser cutters used to cost between $5,000 and $10,000, he said.

"We now have models that are $3,000 and super-easy to use."

So far, he said,  the investment has been worth it, and that "engagement levels are off the chart."

"We're finding a lot of very young students are able to kind of develop a depth of knowledge that far surpasses even some older people," he said.

"Professors are just blown away by a Grade 4 [student] being able to explain the intricate things involved with 3D design, and slicing, and 3D printing."

Alyssa Samson shows off the custom iPhone case she made using Makerspace equipment. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Alyssa Samson works at the new location as an mentor, visiting classrooms to implement after-school programs and working with children in the lab.

"It's amazing how you can capture a child's attention … from any age," she said.

She's already worked with students ahead of the space's opening. Together, they programmed an electric guitar onto a piece of cardboard.

It's a piece of cardboard, but was designed in the Avalon Makerspace to play like an electric guitar. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"We used a program called Scratch, and we use different kinds of codes to set it up so that if you press around … the guitar will make different sounds and change colours."

The laboratory is already filled with 3D-printed objects made in the building.

"I actually made my own key chain the other day," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Here & Now

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