They made brass knuckles.
The class was “Psychology of Women” at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and the students’ assignment was to make self-protection devices.
So they turned to the Hatch It! Lab in the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the James R. Mapp Building. Using the lab’s 3D printer, one team designed brass knuckles that fit on two fingers. Technically, they were plastic knuckles, but they still fit the assignment.
“I loved that students had access to the Hatch It! Lab as it allowed them to apply class material to something in the ‘real world,’” said Dr. Alex Zelin, associate professor of psychology who taught the class.
“Because much of the class focuses on social justice, students were able to create something physical that allowed them to share what they learned with others,” said Zelin, who recently left UTC for another job.
Now celebrating its second year in operation, the Hatch It! Lab is far more than just a place to make 3D-printed defense weapons. With its heat press, it can adhere silkscreen images onto T-shirts. Its laser cutter can slice vinyl into shapes of all sizes. Its computer-controlled sewing machines can use multicolored threads to embroider complex designs.
Students in 41 courses such as botany, literature, psychology, Afrofuturism, education and criminal justice have used the lab. They have made such items as a 3D-printed yellow Buddha, coasters that say, “Trans Rights Are Human Rights,” and a king chess piece created as a remembrance of an older brother who passed away.
“Typically, when you think of the lab, you think of entrepreneurship or business or engineering stuff, but my favorites have been the completely unrelated ones,” said Sami Belcher, lead manager of the lab.
Dr. Kira Robison, associate professor of history, is using the lab this semester in her “Ancient Greek” course. Students must use the lab’s 3D printer to create replicas of Greek sculptures. She has never used the Hatch It! Lab until this semester.
“I think it’s an amazing resource. I am sorry that I haven’t gotten a chance to use it before now,” she said. “It gives me a chance to ask the students to do something creative and to put themselves in the role of a historian and also as a learner in ways I couldn’t before.
“And using it is free,” she added exuberantly.
However, whether it’s those who work in the Hatch It! Lab or faculty and students who use it, the general feeling is that it’s not well-known across campus and, because of that, is underutilized.
“The more professors that are aware of how you can work this stuff into your curriculum, the more exciting it is for students to make things out of their heads and have it become real,” said Mike Bradshaw, who heads the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Richard Ziedins, an engineering management senior who works in the lab, said he talks to students who are “completely surprised and impressed that we have this space because not a lot of them actually know that this exists.”
Word slowly is spreading, said Belcher, a senior in communications and psychology.
“Each semester, we get more and more classes,” she said.
Bradshaw said it’s a matter of showing professors how the lab can bring a new dimension to their classes.
“I think it’s more a matter of signaling awareness of the opportunity to engage students in this really fun way,” he said. “These things are all tremendous learning experiences. Plus, they’re inspiring. They’re empowering.”
Dr. Ruth Walker, assistant professor in psychology, took her students to the lab in her classes. Once there, they made a variety of items, including stickers with the message, “There Are No Blurred Lines When It Comes to Consent,” and plastic stars with raised letters that say, “Toys Have No Gender.”
“It can be difficult sometimes for students to see connections with concepts they learn in the classroom and their own lives,” said Walker.
“By asking students to create a product in the Hatch It! Lab that has both an educational and advocacy component, it helps students make a visual representation of what they want to communicate to others about what they have learned.”
Belcher said the lab can do more than just provide a way to complete a single assignment in a particular course.
“It could be three semesters down the road, and they think of a use for it, “ she said. “Usually, it’s one of those things where, once you’re in there, the wheels start turning.”