As Professor Marty Culpepper SM ’97, PhD ’00 tells it, he spent his childhood breaking things. Most of the time, he put them back together. When he was 11, he took apart his father’s carburetor—without permission, it turns out. Despite his best efforts to return it to good working order, he was left with a few mystery pieces. I expect this was hard on Marty’s parents, but his obsession with how things work will sound familiar to nearly any MIT graduate—and it’s a perfect qualification for his role as our “maker czar.”
We are a community of makers. I think of this every August when I walk past the East Campus roller coaster. Or when the sun hits one of the glass pumpkins in my office. Or when 2.009 (Product Engineering Processes) takes over Killian Court with a fleet of homemade catapults.
With more than 130,000 square feet of makerspaces spread across campus, MIT is a playground of possibility for people who like to work with their hands. If you fondly remember the drill press and bandsaw in the Hobby Shop, don’t despair! Those tools are still there. We’ve just added to the collection. Our students and faculty use the campus’s tools to test, explore, prototype, refine, and perfect their ideas—and demand keeps growing.
MIT plans to convert the Metropolitan Warehouse, a massive brick structure at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street, into a spectacular new home for two entities: the School of Architecture and Planning and a new makerspace, the largest on campus, which will boast expanded design and fabrication facilities available to the entire MIT community.
Our maker czar is leading the way. Together with student volunteers, he is spearheading Project Manus, an Institute-wide effort to create the gold standard in next-generation academic maker systems. Project Manus will design and build the Met Warehouse makerspace.
Learning by doing has defined the Institute from the start. It is central to our work to understand the world and make it better. That will never change. We are thrilled about advances our community is making in computing and artificial intelligence, but we will always retain a deep appreciation for the physical—things we can touch and feel and make, and even break—with digital innovation enhancing physical making, and vice versa.
Stay tuned, because at MIT we are always optimizing the prototype.
L. Rafael Reif