Innovation. Design. Engineering. Art. : An Inside Look at HB’s IDEA Lab

by Chloe Schwartz

The basement route is the same as ever. Fourth grade murals stretch across the walls of the basement corridors as Vivaldi’s Gloria echoes from the choir room. But as you reach the elevator doors and take a left, a bright light shines out from the space that used to be the Invention Lab.

The glass doors that were a hallmark of the room for many years are still there, but the space they open onto is completely different. The floors are a shiny, black material and the walls are bright white. There are tables and new computers and plenty of machines in the back where storage used to be, and at any given moment Ms. Jackson, the head of the new IDEA Lab and an HB alum, can be found talking to fellow workers and greeting visitors with a smile.

I met with her on October 5th, and at that point, nearly everything was set up. The machines look pristine and ready for use, and Ms. Jackson couldn’t have been more excited about the opportunity to talk about her IDEA Lab.

Q: What was the building and design process like?

A: I got involved with the design and the project a couple months before I officially started here and a year or so into the process. When I went to school here this was a wood lab with Ms. May. The space felt very much like a shop, and I think that one of the things they really wanted to do is make it feel contemporary and have it inspire creativity and fall in line with the whole design process. A consultant, Ties, came in who designs and installs these Fab Labs across the world. They let us know what kind of equipment we needed to get, how it should be laid out, and how we could redesign the space. The team included Ms. Sadler, Mr. Kallmeyer, Mr. Allen, Ms. Hughes and myself. We got a lot of feedback from the people who were planning to use the space, like the robotics mentors with their experience at Think[box]. I think it was just a holistic approach to the space, trying to figure out the best way to make it flexible and make it usable. I think it was a long time coming, and I think it was a very strategic and detailed design process.

Q: What are some classes you have planned?

A: Over the past few months, I’ve been meeting with teachers from early childhood, middle, prime, and upper school, trying to figure out ways to incorporate this space into the current curriculum. We have some projects coming up with specific classes. Hogaway Brown, an academy in the middle school, wants to come down and make Harry Potter wands, which’ll be fun. We’re also going to try to do some after school promo nights, for students, parents, and faculty. We’ll try to do a few activities prior to Christmas break. That’ll be fun, and kind of introduce people to the space and to the equipment. Something to bring the whole community into the space, at least as many as can fit in here safely. I’ve also had a couple requests from Upper Schoolers who want to really dive into the space and do some pretty cool and creative projects on their own. And next year, we’ll have some sort of engineering curriculum designed around the space.

Q: So, can people visit?

A: Oh, absolutely! When I come in in the morning I will unlock the door, so even if I’m not in here I invite people to come in and poke around. In general, I would say that we’d really have to go through a safety/introductory class before I think that people could start playing. There are a lot of really high powered things in here, and the last thing I want would be for somebody to get hurt. Come, visit, walk around, look at some of the things that we do, and look out within the next month or so for some classes and some training so that you can get started.

Q: What’s most exciting about the IDEA Lab?

A: I’m most excited to see how we can make this space usable for a three year old and an eighteen year old. I think that that’s very exciting. One of the beautiful things about Hathaway Brown is that we have that variety of ages in one place, but there aren’t necessarily a lot of spaces where all of the girls use the same space, besides maybe the gym or the atrium at some points. So I think this is one of those spaces that’s going to be fun to see everyone from early childhood to fourth graders to twelfth graders coming in.

Q: What’s your favorite piece of new equipment?

A: I’m going to say the lasers. I mean I really love the 3D printers because they’re super cool, but there’s just so many things you can do outside of just what you’d naturally think with the lasers. Besides just cutting and engraving, you can make t-shirts, or you can do jewelry, or you can make prototypes and mini pieces of furniture and models. It’s just a very flexible piece of equipment. You can do all kinds of stuff on it.

Q: What did you like most about creating the lab?

A: I really liked just the design process. I think that one of the things that’s not necessarily fun in the moment but is fun when you look back on it is the failure part of it. The thing about engineering and design is that you have to come up with an idea, research, research, research, plan it, and design it. Something is going to go wrong, and you have to figure out what went wrong and go back and fix it. It’s the process of figuring out the problem and then coming up with the solution to the problem that’s good to look back on. I think that the failure part of it is not fun at the time but it’s crucial.

[Author note]: The new lab is open to the public, so feel free to stop by and say hello to Ms. Jackson if you see her. More information will be coming soon, so be on the lookout!

Q: Do you have any favorite stories/memories from the design process?

A: “I really liked just the design process. I think that one of the things that’s not necessarily fun in the moment but is fun when you look back and think about it is the failure part of it. I think the thing about engineering and design is that you have to come up with an idea, research, research, research, plan it, design it, something is going to go wrong, and you figure out what went wrong and go back and fix it. But it’s the process of figuring out the problem and then coming up with the solution to the problem. So I think that the failure part of it is not fun at the time but it’s crucial.”

Image credit: Worldwide Communications Center [still from video]