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New campus space helps 'SparQ' creativity

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

People toil away in their garages every day to come up with innovative products. For students living in rented apartments, though, that option isn’t usually available.

Queen’s students decided to change that and open their own “garage” on campus. They pitched the idea to the Queen’s Innovation Connector, a joint initiative by the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and Queen’s School of Business, who agreed to partner with them and support their project. The result, SparQ Labs in Beamish Munro Hall, is the first “makerspace” on a Canadian university campus where students can work on their projects and share resources and knowledge.

“Elspeth Murray, Associate Dean of QSB, says makerspace is the ‘garage phenomenon on steroids.’ That’s the culture we are really trying to instill here,” says Robin Sim (Sci’14), a co-founder and former director of SparQ Labs.

With the makerspace now in place, we expect that ideas that were once hidden in the university will be discovered. SparQ Labs will enable increased hands-on learning in the classroom of the future.

Robin Sim, co-founder of SparQ Labs

Brennan Piper (Sci’15), the current director of SparQ, initially visited the lab to use a heat gun for a personal project. He soon discovered other tools like a desktop 3D printer, drill press and milling machine that he could not access on a student budget.

“I have a list pages long of things I want to make. Now that I have access to this space, the ideas can come off the page,” he says. “And another great thing is that any Queen’s student, faculty or staff member can join SparQ Labs and make use of the space.”

After opening in May 2013, SparQ Labs made several moves before finding a permanent home at Beamish Munro Hall Room 115H in February 2014. SparQ has supported student projects and the Queen’s Summer Innovation Institute (QSII). Last year’s QSII winner, GCC Labs, developed the prototype of its cordless cellphone charger for restaurants and bars in SparQ Labs.

Mr. Sim believes the makerspace supports the university’s goal to give students more experiential learning opportunities and fosters a growing entrepreneurial community at Queen’s.

“The education system is changing. When you can show employers you have actually created a product, that’s worth something to them,” he says. “With the makerspace now in place, we expect that ideas that were once hidden in the university will be discovered. SparQ Labs will enable increased hands-on learning in the classroom of the future.”

More information is available on the SparQ Labs website.