In a small room of bustling students, Paly senior Andrew Shieh calmly sits at the computer table in the corner of the room, designing electric vehicle parts with advanced software. After Shieh finishes with his blueprints, he sends his design to a 3-D printer, a machine that repetitively traces multiple layers of white plastic filament to form the final product.
Shieh will use his 3-D printed car parts for a battery-powered vehicle, which is programmed to autonomously navigate between two cans on a track in the fastest time possible.
Aspiring student engineers can fulfill their dreams at MakeX, a free makerspace that offers a wide variety of tools – 3-D printers, laser cutters and acrylic paints galore!
MakeX, located in a classroom at Cubberley Community Center, opened its doors to the Palo Alto community in 2014.
Although the space is for public use, its predominant occupants are students who want to design their projects without adult supervision.
MakeX is currently open on Fridays from 4:15 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Prior to its construction, MakeX initially launched in mobile form at the Palo Alto Art Center. Following its success, the makerspace was founded and designed with the help of high school students and funded by the City of Palo Alto.
Nathan Kau, a sophomore at Stanford University and a former Paly student, was one of the original students involved in founding MakeX.
“At the time we started MakeX, there weren’t too many makerspaces around, and the few that did exist were either very expensive, unavailable to students or both,” Kau said. “I wanted [MakeX] to be free for students and to also have an accessible and friendly environment.”
Kau’s applies his past experiences with engineering to his current college life.
“Some of the more fun [projects] were building a drone from scratch using recycled arrow shafts, casting an origami lion inside a clear plastic block and building a walking robot, which I’m continuing to work on at Stanford,” Kau said.
Kau works at MakeX over the summer, but he leaves it up to the new generation of mentors to manage a majority of the makerspace.
MakeX is completely run by student mentors who assist other students with their creations.
“The mentors at MakeX helped me with many of my Science Olympiad (SciOly) projects,” Shieh said. “They taught me how to properly use certain tools and provided me with constructive feedback.”
Gunn senior Gregory Xie, a student mentor at MakeX, manages the budget, communicates with the city and recruits new mentors.
Students can also bond with other ambitious engineers while waiting to use the tools by relaxing on the sofa and playing video games.
“At MakeX, there are a bunch of free tools that you can use whenever you want,” Xie said. “Also, it’s a really great place to hang out – we have a Wii and a projector for movies.”
Students in SciOly, a club in which members compete in science-related events, frequently work on their projects at MakeX.
In the past two years, for his SciOly events, Shieh utilized the engineering tools and amenities at MakeX.
“MakeX has tools that I don’t have access to at Paly, such as 3-D printers,” Shieh said. “It would have been difficult for me to finish my electric vehicle without the power and cutting tools offered at MakeX.”
Many students say they enjoy working at MakeX, as they are provided with a wide variety of tools free of charge.
Kau encourages students who are interested in building their own creations to check out MakeX as well as apply to be a mentor.
“[MakeX is] like a messier version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but replace the candy machines with 3-D printers, laser cutters, and other fancy tools,” Kau said. “You also don’t need a golden ticket, anyone can work there.”