Center for Engineering Innovation and Design celebrates fourth birthday, looks to future

“I’m making furniture for the two cats I just adopted,” said Ellen Su ’13, stapling a piece of dark blue carpet onto a wood frame. Su wore clear plastic safety glasses, and her materials were scattered across the eight-foot wooden tabletop. On the table next to hers lay a CPR dummy in a blue t-shirt with fake veins full of fake blood connected to an IV stand. A few tables behind her, 20 members of the Yale community milled around six small gasoline engines, disassembling and reassembling them under the watchful eyes of members of Yale’s Bulldogs Racing club. 3-D printers of various sizes hummed quietly in the background.

This patchwork of activity is a typical scene at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID), Yale’s academic “makerspace.” Established four years ago to promote a culture of engineering at Yale, the CEID boasts tools ranging from hammers and sewing needles to Arduino microcontrollers and 3-D printers; weekly workshops that introduce concepts like engine combustion and chocolate tempering with hands-on activities; several design-based engineering courses with an emphasis on hands-on learning; summer fellowships that provide opportunities for students to pursue early-stage technology projects full-time; and a staff whose combined expertise can help everyone from the novice woodworker to the senior mechanical engineering major navigate their projects.

Related story: With CEID, School of Engineering expands hands-on educational opportunities

“One of the great things about the CEID is that we don’t put bounds on how people can use it. There are no bounds for why you’re checking out a book at the library, and there are no bounds for why you’re working out at the gym. It’s the same thing here,” said Vincent Wilczynski, director of the CEID and deputy dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “It’s a great environment for people to experiment with the physical world.”

That openness helps nurture the diverse perspectives and expertise of the CEID community. The CEID welcomes economics majors building rockets for a NASA competition, history majors building wooden bedside tables for their apartment, art majors producing a novel medical device on a 3-D printer, and everyone in-between.

“With over 2,000 members that include graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty, and staff, what happens is this natural genesis of diverse people coming together to form teams and solve problems in the physical world,” Wilczynski said.

CEID members have, in just four years, created successful medical startups, placed at national design competitions, formed new extracurricular groups, produced and published studies, and more. The center’s assistant director, Joseph Zinter spends time there almost every day and is consistently impressed by the work and innovation of its members.

“It is in incredibly vibrant and inspiring community,” said Zinter.

Related story: CEID fosters innovative startups

On Aug. 29, the CEID celebrated its fourth anniversary with a birthday party. Three hundred cupcakes were frosted and arranged into the CEID logo, and a few students held winning lottery tickets — those with a mark that would appear when a staff member shone an ultraviolet flashlight on it — for a variety of CEID merchandise. Wilczynski, Zinter, and other staff members stood on the mezzanine overlooking the party to welcome the guests.

“It’s been a wild, crazy, and fun four years,” Wilczynski said. “And we can’t wait for what the future will bring.”