by Isabella Howard
According to their website, the Champaign Urbana Community Fab Lab, CUCFL, is an open source community of people who like to design and make things. While the lab is located on the University of Illinois campus, it is open to the community as a whole. They provide modern digital fabrication technology and the skilled volunteers to help use it. Open hours are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m. Admission to the lab and scrap materials are free, but there is a small charge for the use of some of the equipment, and new materials are for sale at very reasonable prices. Free parking is available in the parking lot next to the lab.
The first time I went to the CUCFL was for an open house. The lab was very busy so I didn’t get to try to make anything, but I did get a key chain. Later I went back so my brother could print parts for a levitating solar-powered electric motor and I could make an acrylic box for a guitar amplifier I had soldered together. Making things at the lab was so much fun that I decided to see if I could become a volunteer, even though I was only 11 years old.
I was told I could become a volunteer, and was invited to a meeting for people interested in volunteering at the CUCFL. At the meeting I was asked to come up with a regular activity to try and get more young people into the lab. After quite a bit of discussion with the other volunteers at the CUCFL, the Fab Lab Makers were born. This is an open lab time for young people between the ages of ten and sixteen, with a responsible adult, that meets on the third Saturday of every month from ten until noon.
After several successful meetings of the Fab Lab Makers it was suggested there should be a Youth Council as part of the CUCFL organization. The purpose of the Youth Council would be to provide a contact point for other youth organizations wanting to use the lab, support of the Fab Lab Makers, and promoting the CUCFL for use by young people in the community.
With that in mind, my dad and I created a charter which was approved by the CUCFL Business and Operations committee in April of this year. So far the Committee has made posters, created a website, started a Google Group for sharing announcements and begun making donation boxes for the lab.
When people first hear about the fab lab, they often think it is for people who love technology and want to build robots or other complicated things. In reality it is for anyone interested in art, design, engineering, or making things. There are many wonderful volunteers that are happy to show you how to use the equipment, and to offer advice when you ask for it. So please find the time to come to the CUCFL and make a key chain, a plaque, a robot, or anything else you can think of.