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The Make Space: State College’s Own Makerspace

Fraser Street is a pretty quiet part of downtown State College. There aren’t any outrageously popular restaurants on the street, and the construction of the Fraser Centre has made the whole area pretty difficult to navigate. It tows the awkward line of not quite being part of the main State College drag and not quite fitting in with the residential vibe of West College.

But there’s one storefront on Fraser Street that is anything but sleepy. It’s nestled away in a little alley off of Fraser, right across from Alley Cat Music. It’s a space that exists solely to aid and support the creativity and innovation of the State College community. Meet the aptly named Make Space.

Make Place Exterior

The Make Space was created in the summer of 2011. During its first year in State College, it was used by Innoblue, a student entrepreneurship group on campus. The Make Space was then handed off to HackPSU. During its four years of existence, The Make Space has gone through quite a transformation. It’s now a space completely dedicated to creating. “It’s like a local library of sorts,” co-founder Eric Furjanic said. “We’re maintaining a space to collect tools and hold workshops. But we’re also a place where people can share experiences.”

The tools that Furjanic mentioned aren’t your typical screwdrivers and wrenches. No, The Make Space offers some pretty intense technology for the State College community to use, free of charge. Take their 3D printer, for example.

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Even the creation of this printer echoes the collaborative mission of The Make Space. “This printer was made from pieces printed on another 3D printer,” Furjanic said. “The plans for the printer are on a sort of wiki page. That means that everyone can think of improving one of the printer’s widgets, so it evolves because everyone is pitching in.”

The Make Space has used their 3D printing capabilities to collaborate with other members of the Penn State community. The studio worked with Dr. Mark Shriver from Penn State’s Anthropology department to create 3D portraits during Arts Fest, like a high-tech spin on the caricature artists at the carnival. “It was a really natural collaboration,” Furjanic said.

Community engagement and collaboration are the life-blood of the Make Space. Not only do they work with Penn State professors like Shriver, but they also serve as a resource for the State College community. Joseph Sanchez, a member of The Make Space, was one of the organizer’s of The Make Space’s biggest event to date: Maker’s Week After Hours.

The event, which took place in August, was The Make Space’s way to share with the community all of the amazing work they created. The studio partnered with Schlow Library to create a series of interactive gadgets for all of State College to experience. “It was a way for the public to get in on all the things we’ve been doing here,” Sanchez said.

One of the stations at the Maker’s Week was called Jacob’s Ladder. Composed of two poles, a transformer from a microwave, three other microwave’s capacitor’s, and a swinging aluminum arm, the tall structure ran over 10,000 volts of energy through the poles. Once the metallic arm hit one of the poles, all of that energy was converted to plasma. The result? A flame that raised up to the top of the poles in the most dramatic fashion. Sanchez even made the flames dance at the top of the pole, using a broom to touch the top.

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At Maker’s Week, passerby could press a button to release the activate the dramatic Jacob’s Ladder. Sanchez wanted to make every exhibit at the event interactive. “It’s all about cool things that interact with people,” Sanchez said. “That’s the key.”

Though the Jacob’s Ladder was mind-blowing, the stand-out exhibit from Maker’s Week was a propane barrel. Now that doesn’t sound like much, but this propane barrel was engineering to respond to the amplitude of a sound wave. So whenever the barrel is connected to a sound source, its flames bounce up and down to the sinusoidal waves of the music. Sanchez demonstrated this gadget with a little techno music, which is apparently the ideal genre for playing with fire. “You have to play techno with fire,” Sanchez said. “It’s basically required.”

Though The Make Space’s creations are fascinating, they are, at the core, a place to learn. “I taught part of a camp at the Discovery Space downtown,” Sanchez said. “It was so rewarding. I taught twenty kids, ages eight through twelve, to solder for the first time.”

Whether you’re eight or 21 or 80, the people at The Make Space are ready to teach you something new. “If people want to do a class or start a club, we’re here to help,” Sanchez said.

About the Author

Anna Foley

Anna is a senior majoring in Communication Arts & Sciences and Spanish with a minor in Theatre. Yes, she went to Spain. Follow her half-funny thoughts @exfoleyator and send her chain emails at [email protected]

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