Think[box] Manager Ian Charnas presents on program’s success

Presentation at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is latest of many


Photo courtesy Ian Charnas

Think[box] is moving to the newly renamed Richey-Mixon Building behind the Veale Center.

At NASA  it takes months for a project to make it through each technology readiness level (TRL), the stages in taking an idea from concept to development. At think[box], TRLs can be much shorter.

Those quicker TRLs were the focus of think[box] Manager Ian Charnas’ May 21 presentation to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“[NASA] thought we were kind of a leader, nationwide, in makerspaces,” said Charnas.

Currently, think[box] is one of the only free and open to the public makerspaces at its scale in the world. While other free makerspaces or larger ones than think[box] exist, they often come with limitations: a smaller selection of equipment available, limited access depending on users’ position or department in the university or usage fees.

While Charnas said that these restrictions are not the case at think[box] currently, it will be further upgrading its capabilities this summer after moving to a new facility in the Richey-Mixon Building behind Veale Center. Upon opening in the Richey-Mixon building next academic year, think[box] will expand to include, among other things, patent resources, investment resources, a metal shop, a wood shop and a circuitry shop.

Think[box] has drawn considerable attention. Multiple times a month Charnas leaves CWRU to make presentations about running think[box]. While most of these presentations are for alumni, he also speaks at schools and other organizations looking to start their own makerspaces, efforts that Charnas wants to help to flourish.

“I would like for all universities to be doing that,” Charnas said. “For all universities and colleges that tour through here to make [their makerspaces] free and open.”

So far, Charnas and the rest of the think[box] staff have mentored over one hundred different organizations looking to start their own makerspaces. That’s not including the universities around the world that access the equipment-usage documentation that has been developed by think[box].

There remain challenges to running think[box]. Shop managers at makerspaces like think[box] worry about opening up heavy machinery to the public: expensive machinery could be stolen or visitors could be injured. Charnas has not seen such fears validated, though.

“We’ve only had great things happen,” Charnas said.

Think[box] employees have been working since before the original facility opened in 2012 to develop tutorials for the equipment that is available in think[box], with a focus on eliminating confusing or ambiguous instructions.

In this current temporary location think[box] sees 3000 to 4000 visitors per month. While a less popular makerspace might be easier to run, Charnas prefers it this way.

“It would be easier, then, if we only had ten visits a day—if we weren’t free and open to the public, if we didn’t have novices come in here—but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun,” he said.