Richmond, VA (November 11, 2016)– On Nov. 4, VCU’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) opened its new Innovation Lab, also known as “The Garage,” a popular makerspace that gives majors 24-7 access to the necessary tools for circuit design and development. John Leonard, Ph.D., the School’s executive associate dean of finance and administration, cut the ribbon across the doorway as Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D, chair of ECE, welcomed approximately two dozen VCU faculty members and guests including secondary educators. ECE Advisory Board Chair Giorgios Karles, Ph.D., who offered suggestions and support for the lab’s development, was also in attendance.
All were eager to get a first look at the renovated space that features power supplies, function generators, multimeters and oscilloscopes on every bench, plus two MakerBot 3-D printers for rapid prototyping. In addition to next-gen electronics, the facility also has old-school tools including a bandsaw, drill press and various hand tools.
Topsakal said that creating the lab comprised investments in new equipment as well as space improvements, but added that its biggest asset is something without a price tag.
“The best thing about the Garage is its spirit, namely the students with big dreams, who will be working in the Garage every day hoping to change the world and make it a better place. I just can't wait to see what kind of innovations will come out in the next few years,” Topsakal said.
Secondary educators were also invited to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which gave them a chance to see resources that students have access to at VCU Engineering.
“Maggie Walker already has extensive dual-enrollment classes with VCU. We’re interested in expanding that to include new partnerships with the VCU School of Engineering,” said Wendy Taylor Ellis, Ph.D., assistant director for curriculum and instruction at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.
Afroditi Filippas, professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate dean for undergraduate studies, pointed out a wall of empty bins “just standing open, waiting for students to fill them with projects” and said that her senior capstone advisees are already asking for access to the new ECE Garage.
Sixteen minutes after the ribbon was cut, Filippas’ point was illustrated as ECE seniors Bart Thornton and Thomas Nuckols sat at a bench to start programming algorithms on a microcontroller to a robotic platform for a fall-semester class project. Their project is just one of many prototypes that will have their start in West Hall room 245. Topsakal, who named gave the space its moniker, believes that every great idea starts in someone’s garage. He is certain that some of the projects that begin in ECE’s will have a big impact.
“I want to see multimillion dollar spin-off companies coming out of the Garage,” he said “And when those students are asked about the roots of their big success, my hope is that the answer will be, ‘It all started in the Garage.’”