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How Boston's Fab Lab Is Changing the Tech World

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Huddled together around a laptop and a circuit board three Boston teens are trouble shooting a problem that might seem daunting to even a seasoned electrical engineer:  how to turn this mass of wires into their vision - a water piano.

"When you touch the water," explains 18-year-old Gerald Hill, " you kind of complete a circuit and what it will do is make a piano sound."

Hill, who just graduated from high school, imagines the technology might introduce kids to the piano keyboard.  Dream it up, and -  at Boston Fab Lab - you've got the tools and the time to turn it into reality.

"The goal is to create a critical mass of youth who are engaged and interested in the creative uses of technology and get them going on to college and careers in science, engineering, technology and math," says Susan Klimczak, educator organizer for Boston Fab Lab.  "Our program is about 90 percent youth of color.  Most of our youth come from families living with low incomes.  We have some youth who have been justice involved.  We have some youth who have been living without homes."

"Our program is about 90 percent youth of color.  Most of our youth come from families living with low incomes.  We have some youth who have been justice involved.  We have some youth who have been living without homes," Susan Klimczak, Boston Fab Lab.

Klimczak's been at Boston Fab Lab since it opened 13 years ago in the basement of a South End brownstone.  Founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  Fab Lab is open to all ages at no cost.  Summer, however, is dedicated to fostering the next generation of innovators.  Forty high school and college students, from neighborhoods across Boston, are selected for what might be the coolest summer job in town:  Fab Lab youth teachers.  They work in teams to create their own projects - everything from a car that teaches coding to a weather station - and then they teach technology to younger children. 

"There's just not a lot of role models in the community," explains Klimczak.  "Of course, the young kids want to do what the cool teenagers are doing,"

Youth teachers come up with their own lesson plans, based on a Fab Lab fundamental:  that the best way to learn is to make something and then explain how you did it.   Ten year old Emmanuel Guzman de Jesus is making a windmill and has refined the blades by alternating the height of popsicle sticks.  

"I realized I could put one up and one down," says Guzman de Jesus.  "The one up could carry more air."

Guzman de Jesus plans to be an inventor.  That's sky's-the-limit sense - both in what you can create and become - may be the most powerful part of Fab Lab.   Somtoo Ebele figured she'd become a nurse one day, but summers at Fab Lab changed her mind.  She spent the last two years studying engineering at Mass Bay Community College.

"You walk into a classroom full of all white men or there's one white female and you're the only black girl and everybody just looks at you and wonders if you're in the wrong class or not.  And you're like, nah, I'm here,"  Somtoo Ebele, Boston Fab Lab.

"You walk into a classroom full of all white men or there's one white female and you're the only black girl and everybody just looks at you and wonders if you're in the wrong class or not," explains Ebele.  " And you're like - nah - I'm here."

The young people at Boston Fab Lab this summer are likely to begin changing the face of tech culture.  Among the high school seniors nearly all plan to major in either engineering or computer science.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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