STEM meets the arts at the CST StudioLab, where users can work on academic and personal projects.
Photo: David Kelly Crow / Princeton University

Over the years, the Princeton University Library Makerspace in the Lewis Science Library has been home to many a project, from a virtual reality experience that students created by 3D scanning sculptures to a Ms. Frizzle costume sewn by a student for an eating club event. Makerspace staff offer low-tech programs like pillow-making, and a “build and play” area supplies hands-on activities like kinetic sand and a mini Zen garden.

“Having a makerspace … ties into our mission to enrich teaching and learning, provide dynamic resources, and be an active and creative partner in engaging in new forms of learning and research,” said Wind Cowles, the library’s associate dean for data, research, and teaching, via email.

The PUL Makerspace, which also includes a virtual reality room and a partially sound-proofed video production room, is one of three open-access makerspaces available to anyone with a University ID. The Keller Center’s makerspace is tucked away in a corner of the H wing of the E-Quad, and the Council on Science and Technology’s (CST) interdisciplinary technology space, the StudioLab, is in Fine Hall.

Hours vary, but the spaces tend to be reserved for courses during the day and have open hours at night. They also host events, from regular group meetings to an esports tournament in the StudioLab that drew about 70 people.

Students are taking advantage: During the 2022-23 academic year, the StudioLab offered 210 trainings and had 714 machine reservations, and during the 2023 calendar year, 1,287 people checked out equipment from the library’s makerspace for a total of 2,925 checkouts.

“We’re continuing to build out the kinds of equipment that we have in the space, and it’s all based on how people are using it, what kind of things they ask for on a regular basis,” said Ariel Ackerly, makerspace specialist at the library.

Makerspace staff across campus collaborate to offer standardized equipment training so users can easily transfer learned skills, such as soldering or 3D printing, across spaces. Staff members also collaborate through MakeNet, a Discord server that acts as a hub of resources and information where the University community can ask questions and share ideas.

The Keller Center’s makerspace boasts the only open-access full woodworking shop on campus. It looks like an arts and crafts playground on steroids: An old-school player piano and vintage arcade machines awaiting repair are scattered among laser cutters and embroidery machines.

When PAW spoke with Castle Kim, former design lab manager, before he departed Princeton, he said students are welcome to come without an idea — to meet with friends or just to have fun.

Brendan Byrne, CST StudioLab manager, wanted “to see capital A art” produced in the space when he joined Princeton in 2019, but since then, he’s also “really begun to appreciate the small projects that bring people so much joy.”

Byrne has seen all kinds of projects come to fruition, from the robotics club designing a Pac-Man maze and then programming a robot to successfully navigate it for a Pacbot Competition, to a postdoc making cookie cutters for his spouse.

The big draw of the StudioLab is the performance zone, complete with theatrical lights, surround sound, and a motion capture system, but Byrne also wants the lab to be inviting and stimulating, which is especially evident in the lengthy bookshelf full of items and artifacts like Rubik’s Cubes, chess pieces, and prototypes that he said “get people excited about the space” and blend STEM with the arts.

Penelope Georges, CST associate director of STEM initiatives, teaches courses in the StudioLab every semester. She said her “students like being in there — they’re engaged, there’s things for them to be doing actively.”

“I think that’s where all of the expansive thought and the creativity happens — the magic.”