For those Cornell students who are more interested in
making than in competing, there is the Cornell Maker Club.
It was started in 2014 by student Hanna Lin BS ‘ 13, M.Eng.
‘ 14 because Lin saw there was no university-recognized club
whose goal was to give students a place to explore technology,
learn new skills and build things. The club has recently been
given a well-equipped room of its own in Phillips Hall. Former
Club President Alex Jaus ’ 16 puts it this way: “Many of the
project teams on campus are looking for people who are very
experienced at a particular skill. We are different in that you can
join without any experience and you can learn. Collaboration
is a big component. We provide a space where people can find
others with similar goals and interests and they can teach and
learn from each other. We don’t hold anyone to a particular
As interest in making has increased, the number of places
a Cornell community member can go to find a makerspace
has increased dramatically. There are now 16 spaces around
campus that are at least partially open to students, faculty
and staff. The Risley Shops on north campus provides
students with a photography dark room and a letterpress,
along with equipment for art and jewelry making, pottery,
sewing, stained glass, wood, audio and video production, and
theater construction. The eXploration Station, located behind
the Wilson Synchrotron Lab, includes an electronics bench
(oscilloscopes, function generators, soldering station), Arduino
and Raspberry Pi resources including dedicated laptops, a 3-D
printer, basic hand tools and battery-powered power tools, and
University Library has been experimenting with mobile pop-up
makerspaces on “Tinker Thursdays” and “Fabrication Fridays”
that rotate through various library locations on campus.
The DIY approach is also making its way more frequently
into classes at Cornell Engineering. New maker technologies,
combined with ideas of the Design Thinking approach
popularized by the design firm IDEO, have made some classes
home to rapid prototyping and truly innovative product
design. A few of the classes incorporating ideas from the Maker
Movement are MAE 4341 (Innovative Product Design via
Digital Manufacturing), ECE 5760 (Advanced Microcontrollers),
and INFO 4320 (Introduction to Rapid Prototyping and
Physical Computing). Students in these classes take an idea
from their brains to the real world in the course of a semester.
All four teams in this year’s Innovative Product Design class
have earned provisional patents for their work. In many cases,
the students have been inspired to continue to develop their
projects long after the course has ended.
Some ideas to come out of the Innovative Product Design
class are a counter-top personal beverage-chilling device called
the Polar Chiller, a fabric-covered hinged play mat for kids
called the QuiltBuilt and an electronic kitchen tool designed to
help parents teach their children how to cook.
In keeping with the Maker Movement’s emphasis on the
free flow of ideas and information, the boundaries between
the Cornell campus and the rest of the maker world are quite
porous. In Ithaca, Cornell students take an advisory role with
the Ithaca High School Code Red robotics team. Ithaca has a
makerspace of its own in Press Bay Alley. It is called the Ithaca
Generator and it is a vibrant space with many active members.
As it grows, the opportunities for interaction with the Cornell
maker community are increasing.
In the broader world, the Cornell Cup, previously
sponsored by Intel, is one of the largest making efforts of
Cornell Engineering. The Cornell Cup is a national embedded
systems competition that attracts teams from colleges all
over the country. These small teams identify a need and then
use embedded computer and electronic systems to create a
technological solution to the problem they have identified.
These solutions just about always involve a lot of improvisation
and DIY workarounds. Past participants in the cup have gone
on to start companies to further develop their technologies. One
team, Titan Arm from the University of Pennsylvania, won the
first James Dyson Award for Engineering and Design for their
battery-powered robotic arm exoskeleton.
David Schneider, director of M.Eng. studies in the Systems
Engineering Department, has had his hand in many of the
maker efforts at Cornell. He helped create the Cornell Cup
challenge and his cavernous basement workshop space in
A remote control car demonstration from the Bits On Our Minds
(BOOM) exhibition in Duffield hall.
Organizers and participants of the first annual Make-a-thon hosted
at Cornell by the student-led nonprofit group Life Changing Labs
gathered in the atrium of the Physical Sciences Building.
“MAKING GIVES PEOPLE
THE FREEDOM TO CREATE.
WE AIM TO EMPOWER
PEOPLE FURTHER TO
MAKE A DIFFERENCE WITH
— David Schneider