Patrick McCarthy, facilitator for the Wanger Family Fab Lab (as well as a proud circuit-bender and musician), opened his guided tour of the Museum of Science and Industry's cutting edge workspace by talking about the origin of 'Fab Labs'.
The first was created in 2001 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as a workspace for a class called “How to Make Basically Anything”. But soon, people not part of the class overcrowded this space, using it's 3D printers, lasers etchers, and milling machines for their own projects. Another lab was built on campus, then another.
Today, there are over 125 Fab Labs scattered across the globe, each with compatible machinery and software, so that any project started in one lab can be finished in another. The Wanger Family Fab Lab, founded in 2006, fosters the original ethos of being able to 'make anything' by training the staff of other labs in the city of Chicago, and by hosting free, twenty to sixty minute classes for museum attendees.
On the 17th of September, the Fab Lab hosted a laser etching class. Guided by Patrick McCarthy, visitors were introduced to an Epilog laser cutter, and watched a simple key pendant get cut out of a translucent acrylic sheet. As the machine worked, fine powder from the etching process occasionally ignited in bright blue flashes.
(Later on, Patrick asked pop quiz questions about the laser etcher: “What's the Frequency of the cutting laser?” Infrared. “What are it's optical mirrors made of?” Gold. Successful answers were rewarded with stickers, and occasionally applause from a sound effect box.)
He set them down in front of computers and showed them Inkscape, a vector graphics program, and how to use it create words, shapes, and symbols that a laser etcher can cut out. At the end of the class, each person got a complimentary pendant they'd designed, strung on necklaces and keychain loops.
Whether or not most 'students' pursue digital manufacturing on their own after these classes, the Wanger Family Fab Lab most definitively spread ideas. That is the most interesting part about Fab Lab's and the 'Do it Yourself' ethos. They're about ideas: spreading them through mass communications, fostering them through local resources, and inspiring new ones through education.