Somewhere on the University of Virginia’s Grounds right now, there is a 3-D printer whirring, spooling out layers of plastic to make a model of a patient’s skull, perhaps, or bringing an architecture student’s drawing to life.
There are also spinning robotic arms, drilling and making cuts that are accurate to thousandths of a millimeter. There are laser cutters, computer-controlled routers and even wind tunnels, all tucked into the nooks and crannies of labs, shops and studios around the University.
There is a buzz in these spaces, a special energy that comes not just from the tools, but from the people using them to turn ideas into reality. They are faculty and staff members who have carefully honed their craft, who are passionate about bringing the latest technology to UVA and who work every day to help UVA students from the Department of Drama to the School of Engineering and Applied Science find the best way to make their ideas happen.
They call themselves the “Makers of UVA” – an ever-expanding group of faculty and staff running a growing network of “Maker Grounds” spaces around the University.
These are just a few of their stories.
Melissa Goldman, School of Architecture “FabLab”
Goldman, the daughter of a math teacher and a sculptor, always loved making things. As a student at Harvard University, she ran her own set design group, building new worlds for each undergraduate drama production. After graduation, she didn’t want to stop.
“I wanted to go even bigger than theater, so I went to graduate school for architecture at Columbia University, where I got bit by the digital fabrication bug,” she said. “After that, I knew that I wanted my own shop, and that I wanted to teach.”
That’s exactly what she did. As fabrication facilities manager, Goldman now runs the Fabrication Lab, or “FabLab,” at UVA’s School of Architecture.
In addition to working with architecture classes, Goldman runs safety demonstrations and workshops for any UVA students interested in using the lab’s tools, which include robotic arms, CNC routers, 3-D printers and a wood shop, among others. She hosts “Robo Nights” to encourage students to explore industrial robotics, works with the Hoos Flying club to create large-scale model planes and has even helped students in the English department create laser-cut puzzles based on poetry.
“If students don’t know how it’s built, they can’t design for it,” Goldman said. “It’s so important for students, faculty and staff to be able to experiment, play and get their hands a bit dirty. That’s what we are all about.”
As much as she loves the FabLab, Goldman says the best part of her job is collaborating with other makers around Grounds.
“Maker Grounds is so much more than spaces with tools; it’s a network of people who have so much expertise, who teach and do research,” she said. “It’s creating a culture on Grounds.”