Innovation spaces are springing up around the world.  This phenomenon is driven by emerging technologies in additive manufacturing, by new thinking about learning, by a desire to grow the Michigan economy through the democratization of innovation and entrepreneurship and the need to provide authentic experiences to engage and retain students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines and careers.  

We are presently engaged in the project planning phase of the Innovation 5 concept. Innovation 5 will be a community-based rapid prototyping/additive manufacturing facility that will be housed within and will be integral to the Impression 5 Science Center in downtown Lansing, MI.  This space is envisioned to house resources such as rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing equipment, meeting spaces and networking facilities for collaboration, This space will also serve as a core element of the informal learning experience for visitors to the Impression 5 Science Center.  Impression 5 is currently planning a dramatic renovation and expansion which provides a window of opportunity for development of this new concept.

Innovation 5 is planned to function at the intersection of three major trends in education and economic development; additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping, authentic STEM experiences for students and community based innovation and entrepreneurial support.. 

Additive Manufacturing/Rapid Prototyping

 Additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping are poised to be the next great digital revolution, where the barrier between digital concept and physical object ceases to exist.  

…machines that turn binary digits into physical objects are pioneering a whole new way of making things – one that could rewrite the rules of manufacturing in much the same way that the PC laid waste to traditional computing (The Economist Technology Quarterly Dec 1, 2012)

This technological revolution is becoming a central feature of a new set of institutions that make these facilities available to entrepreneurs as shared community resources.  Global networks are already forming as non-profits such as FabLabs  and MakerSpaces, commercial entities like TechShop and at the Federal government level, such as the recently announced National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

Authentic STEM Experiences for Students

There is increasing recognition that student learning can be dramatically enhanced by enabling students to engage in inquiry-driven work that connects their learning to the real world and that involves collaboration and communication.  For example, the National Science Foundation is devoting significant resources to promote the concept of learning through innovation through such programs as the I-Corps.  

The informal science education community has moved strongly towards becoming a center for STEM learning in conjunction with more traditional learning environments.  The National Science Foundation recently changed the name of its Informal Science Education (ISE) division to Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL).  The Impression 5 Science Center is also actively pursuing the link between informal education and innovation through its new exhibit, the Build Zone  where children are encouraged to create and test new structures in a wide variety of physical formats.

Community-based Entrepreneurial Support

The Maker/FabLab culture emphasizes the democratization of these new technologies.  We feel that this can be a key contribution of Innovation 5 to the City of Lansing community.  The population of the City of Lansing is diverse with a high proportion of members of underrepresented groups.  In addition, Lansing is undersupported compared to neighboring communities in terms of access to technology and related educational resources.  By becoming the local ‘on ramp to innovation,’ Innovation 5 can provide low-cost, easy-entry access to these new technologies for community members, whether as microentrepreneurs or just to access these technologies for personal interest.

The goal of the Innovation 5 proposal is to meld  these threads into a new type of institution.  We view the Innovation 5 space as a graded environment for STEM learning through innovation.  The facility is envisaged to have a ‘front end’ that serves as an inviting informal education setting where children and families can learn about and participate in the process of innovation and where they can actually see and interact with, in a controlled fashion, the rapid prototyping facility.  The ‘back end’ of the facility will have multiple spaces with various levels of controlled access.  There will be a collaboration space with visual global networking capability and access to design tools that will be relatively open.  Beyond that area would be a space with rapid prototyping tools that require training and supervision for access and operation.  One step beyond this might be small spaces for entrepreneurs to pursue more advanced projects.  

Students will participate integrally in all aspects of Innovation 5’s functioning, from interacting with children in an informal setting to serving as team members in developing products from concept to market.  Students will also provide the core of the group managing the facility, with substantial input into the direction Innovation 5 will take.

Consistent with this vision, 6 student interns are diligently working this summer as a project planning team.  They are focusing on various aspects of the facility, from design and equipment needs to marketing and social media.  We anticipate completing the project planning phase this summer, to be followed by focused fundraising efforts to install and maintain Innovation 5. 

Impression 5 Science Center is strongly supportive of this project and has generously offered to provide ample space within their current building envelope for Innovation 5.  With this support as well as financial support already received from Lansing area community, education and economic development groups, we are confident that we are well on our way to creating Innovation 5, the first facility of its kind in the United States, and one that has great potential to be replicated nationally.