For me, one of the common elements of these talks, tours, and general discussions has been my struggle to convey the unique nature of the NRC’s operation. The concept of an open facility that is available to users from outside its home university is so unusual in my experience and that of those I am speaking with that I have tried to come up with a comparable business that functions using a similar model. Over the years I have mentioned the do-it-yourself Hobby Shops found on many military bases, and I used to even show a short advertising video that describes a business eerily similar to the NRC if you substitute the terms “cleanroom” for “auto shop” and “processing staff” for “auto mechanic.” Even the combination of doing your own work or paying for service is preserved. Still, it was a bit of a stretch.
Now, a recent article in the New York Times titled “Inventors Wanted. Cool Tools Provided.” (4/11/2010) describes TechShop, a do-it-yourself workshop (actually a chain of them) in the San Francisco Bay area that is much closer to the mark. As described on the TechShop website:
According to TechShop chief executive Mark Hatch (as quoted in the NYT article):
TechShop is a 15,000 square-foot membership-based workshop that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a community of creative and supportive people so they can build the things they have always wanted to make.
Making things is core to who we are as Americans. We are inventors. We are creators. Once you give people access to the tools, there will be a resurgence of creativity and innovation.For a monthly access fee, members can take classes and use the equipment for macro-scale fabrication or use their consulting services for assistance with the work. Think lathes, milling machines, and welders instead of mask aligners, plasma etchers, and electron microscopes.
You can think of TechShop like a fitness club, but with tools and equipment instead of exercise equipment...TechShop is perfect for inventors, makers, hackers, tinkerers…, and anyone else who wants to be able to make things that they dream up but don't have the tools, space or skills.I couldn’t have created better marketing copy myself. If you can understand the appeal and utility of TechShop, then the role filled by the Georgia Tech NRC and the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network becomes obvious.