Interested in 3D printing a model of the brain or a Blue Devil? The newly-renovated Technology Engagement Center can make it happen. 

Located in the first floor of the Telecommunications Building, the Technology Engagement Center is a hub for innovative technology that aims to facilitate student-faculty research interactions. It is home to a variety of Office of Information Technology groups, including the Co-Lab Studio and Duke Research Computing. Michael Faber, IT Innovation program manager, said the main goal of the Technology Engagement Center is to provide a space on campus where OIT can interact with the students. 

“I want this place to foster a spirit of technology and innovation,” Faber said. “I want people to think of this as a place that they can come between classes to tinker and to play.”

Since the vast majority of OIT staff work downtown at the American Tobacco campus, they miss out on face-to-face interaction with students and faculty on campus, he explained. 

The Co-Lab Studio houses 55 3D printers as well as laser cutters and CNC routers, and is open to all students for use. It has a diverse range of programming, including studio nights and tech support. Students can also reserve meeting rooms within the Technology Engagement Center for their own use.

On the other hand, Duke Research Computing is more tailored for those who need access to big production servers for their research, and is mainly used by graduate students. However, this shared location has unintentionally resulted in the diffusion of ideas between different groups of people, noted Mark Delong, director of Duke Research Computing. 

“We’ve seen a blurring of traditional research computing and emerging technologies like 3D printing,” he said.

Chip Bobbert, a digital media and emerging technologies engineer, explained that the center has so many 3D printers because the demand is high.  

“When we built this space, we wanted anybody to be able to come in and have access to a 3D printer within a reasonable time,” Bobbert said. “We don’t want to stifle innovation, and we don’t want to have people waiting for two or three weeks before having access to a printer.”

Staff noted that there are always a handful of students working on independent projects or checking out the 3D printers. 

Sophomore Neel Prabhu said that he has been using the center to experiment with 3D printing.

“The fact that Duke students have free access to this is amazing,” he said. “I’ve just been printing anything from little desk toys to upscale three dimensional models of things like cells or other biological structures, just for fun. The staff here is very helpful as well. They’re very willing to come and help you out even if they’re busy with their own work.”

Bobbert added that the student response to the new space has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“This kind of serendipitous interaction between students, researchers and faculty can happen more often now because we have that shared space here,” Faber said.