‘Fab Lab’ Plants Seeds of Creativity


‘Fab Lab’ Plants Seeds of Creativity

UTRGV students Vilma Flores and Alissa Flores with Dr. Emmett Tomai, associate professor of Computer Science, are working on the start-up of the UTRGV Fabrication Lab. (Photo by Paul Chouy, UTRGV)
UTRGV students Vilma Flores and Alissa Flores with Dr. Emmett Tomai, associate professor of Computer Science, are working on the start-up of the UTRGV Fabrication Lab. (Photo by Paul Chouy, UTRGV)

Lab serves underprivileged areas

Technology, science and art will come together in a learning laboratory setting to design new products.

Two faculty members at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley are teaming up to create what will be known as a fabrication laboratory, or “fab lab.”

Donna Sweigart, associate professor of art, and Dr. Emmett Tomai, associate professor of computer science, received an Internal Seed Research Program grant from UTRGV’s Office of Research, Innovation, & Economic Development to start the endeavor.

The goal of the UTRGV initiative is to make technology available for creative and entrepreneurial purposes in underprivileged areas.

For the future facility to be recognized as an official fab lab, it must be reviewed by the Fab Foundation, and if approved, will be the first fab lab in South Texas.

The Fab Foundation website says “activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment to peer-to-peer project-based technical training to local problem-solving to small-scale high-tech business incubation to grass-roots research.”

The nascent UTRGV fab lab will be available for community use and is focused on encouraging youth, particularly young girls, to explore fields in creative technology.

Sweigart, who specializes in metals, jewelry and computerized design, has co-taught a game design course with Tomai for the past four years. She said collaboration between two departments is imperative.

“It’s a way to encourage collaboration between what we usually think are disparate disciplines,” she said. “The modern inventor is more than one thing – more than a computer scientist or engineer, or even an artist.”

Vilma Flores, 24, a studio art and sociology student who is helping start the fab lab, said this program has given her the opportunity to explore a different side of her field.

“My brother did electrical engineering, which is what got me interested in the ‘techy’ side of art, and now I have the resources to explore that,” she said. “It’s going to be awesome to see girls become interested in this at such a young age because, personally, I did not experience that.”

Tomai said the fab lab could also mean big things for the future of Valley industries.

“This is really relevant for the Valley in particular because we need more tech out here,” Tomai said. “We really want to advance computing technology industry here in our area.”

The immediate purpose of the facility will be to give students and the community the resources explore their potential and discover new things.

“We’re excited to see people come in and make great stuff,” Tomai said. “That’s what we want out of this – a place where people can come and they realize what they can do. Then they do it and blow the rest of us away.”

Edward Moreno is a student writer for UTRGV.

The UTRGV Small Business Development Center (SBDC) seeks to promote growth, expansion, innovation, increased productivity, and improved management skills for small businesses in the Rio Grande Valley through quality, business advisement and business training. The UTRGV SBDC is a partially funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, hosted by The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), and in partnership with public and private partners throughout Deep South Texas. It is a field center of the South-West Texas Border SBDC Network and accredited by America’s Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC). Within UTRGV, the program is a part of the Office of Economic Development, under the Division of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development. All opinions, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the SBA.