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A piece that was 3D printed in the Innovation Labs Maker Space

Last month, we spoke with Michael Caston about his role in the creation and development of DU’s Innovation Labs. This month, we explore the ways in which the DU community can make the most of these valuable resources for their projects, whether these endeavors are commercial, creative, scientific or just for fun.

Events and Resources

In a typical year, the main Maker Space in the Ritchie School hosts about 100 events for all students, faculty, staff and alumni. Many organizations use DU’s Innovation Labs for their events and workshops, such as Go Code Colorado and Girls With Gadgets. DU hosts about 100 workshops per year in the Maker Space and Woods and Plastics labs. These workshops are a great chance to learn how to use 3D printers, how to do resin casing, and other basic skills that enable our community to make use of the Innovation Labs.

Over the course of a year, the Innovation Labs are staffed by about 50 DU students. Every part of the organization—operations, marketing, accounting, HR, maintenance and so on—is led and facilitated by student employees. The Innovation Labs capture DU’s entrepreneurial spirit in every facet of its operations, and being run by students epitomizes the homegrown and self-sufficient energy of any professional startup.

Having a Maker Space on campus provides many opportunities for DU’s community. Many products DU typically commissions external vendors for can now be produced in house, saving the university money and providing students the opportunity to gain work experience making these products themselves. For example, while touring the Maker Space, I saw one student employee using the laser engraver to create award plaques for one department’s end-of-year awards ceremony. There are many ways DU’s colleges can collaborate with the Innovation Labs to meet their needs.

Many student orgs currently use the Innovation Lab as a meeting space, including the DU Computer Science Club, DU Dungeons and Dragons Club, and DU Solar Car Club. Caston estimates that over 20 student startups have been launched in the Innovation Labs since its creation in 2017.

One of the 3D printers available for DU student, faculty, staff and alumni use in the Maker Space

Maker Space

The Maker Space in the Ritchie School of Computer Science and Engineering opened about four years ago. This space is more digital compared to other Maker Spaces on campus.  This lab is outfitted with 3D printers, a laser engraver, screen printers and other electronic stations. This space also comes equipped with sewing machines. This space is open generally open 7 days a week during the school year, usually 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 12 – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. This will be the expected schedule going into Fall 2021.

The laser engraver is used frequently to create unique designs on both flat surfaces and rounded ones, like water bottles—there is an attachment that rotates the bottle while engraving into it. This is one of the easier pieces of equipment to learn, and because of its quick results, it is one of the most popular devices in the Maker Space.

3D printers take longer to print than designs on the laser engraver, but they are still quite popular in the Innovation Labs. There are high detail resin printers that can give you results in roughly an hour, depending on the detail of your design. Larger and more complex prints can take 12 hours or more

Directly beside the Maker Space are two co-working spaces available to any DU community members seeking a focused space to develop their startup, work on a group project, or just to come together and meet other creative folks like themselves.

Upstairs in the Ritchie School is a smaller additional Maker Space, the Advanced Prototyping Lab. The tools in this space are more delicate and expensive than those found downstairs in the main Maker Space. Access to this space is therefore reserved for students working on more advanced projects—for example, students in Entrepreneurship@DU’s “First Idea to First Dollar Sale” course who have progressed past the “4th Industrial Revolution” class. DU’s largest format printer can be found here, with the ability to print objects 1 meter x 1 meter x ½ meter in height. It can both print and subtract, creating the possibility of complex geometric shapes in prints.

For DU community members with startups looking to make their first prototype, Michael Caston recommends you visit the Maker Space on the first floor as your first stop. Student employees in the space can help direct you to the appropriate space depending on what your product/prototype needs.

Creations made with the laser engraver in the Maker Space

Woods and Plastics Labs

The Woods and Plastics labs were built about three years ago. They are located in the Metallurgy Building, down Gayloard Street, off the road behind the Ritchie School. The Plastics Lab is still in development and unavailable for public use. Currently, the Innovation Labs are collecting plastic scraps in preparation for its launch. The Labs have received a grant from Sustainability to create a plastics grinder, and to reconstitute waste into reusable materials. In this space, it will be possible to do composite fabrication for products like a canoe, a snowboard, a skateboard, resin casings for jewelers and more. Its launch is anticipated sometime in the fall of 2021.

In order to use the Woods Lab, community members must first take a 2-hour workshop. Because of the tools in this space (for example, the drill press and bandsaws), users can’t just walk in and get assistance like they would in the Maker Space. The basic workshop goes over everything in the space besides the router and lathe, which are taught in advanced workshops. Once you demonstrate knowledge on safety and use of the equipment, you can use the Woods Lab freely.

Students of all disciplines come through the Woods Lab for their projects. One example Caston provided was of a master’s student in the art department, whose thesis was a life-sized tree made out of cardboard. Whatever discipline or practice you’re creating in, the Innovation Labs welcome projects of all shapes and sizes.

The Future of the Innovation Labs

As DU continues constructing new buildings on campus, the Innovation Labs will become a flagship of the university’s growth. A new building currently in the works will have potentially over 60,000 square feet of maker spaces of all kinds: kitchens for culinary art, green screen rooms for film, sound rooms for audio engineering and recording, and much more. Michael Caston has been working for about 1 ½ years toward the ideation of the new building. This building is still under the process of approval and once the University moves forward with fundraising and construction, its completion could realistically be two years from its approval.

Questions about the Innovation Labs? Contact Michael Caston at