AVONDALE, Ariz. — On a rainy Saturday, a community workspace called Gangplank Avondale is filled with children inspired to make things.
Five-year-old Charlie McGeary’s hands grasp a water bottle filled with borax, and she carefully pours a few milliliters in a test tube.
That measurement goes into a Ziploc bag, along with some white school glue that’s dyed purple.
And voila! Slime.
“Squishy, squishy, squishy,” she says with a smile as her hands poke along the clear bag to fluff the purple mixture.
Today, she’s making slime, but organizers of the Maker Open House at Gangplank Avondale hope that one day she will use the same thinking behind making slime to develop a new computer or car or flying machine.
“There’s always that potential; you never know what someone’s going to make,” said Trish Gillam, executive director of Gangplank, a small-business incubator.
In addition to a slime-making table, the wide-open space also had Lego robots, 3D printers and circuitry kits.
Gangplank is part of the Maker Movement, a nationwide drive to bring creation back into everyday life, whether that’s purple slime or a new microprocessor.
While the maker open house was family-oriented, Gangplank Avondale is also open on weeknights for adults to come in and work on whatever projects they can dream up.
Funded by donations and grants, Gangplank started in 2008 with a location in Chandler and has since opened locations in Avondale, in Richmond, Va. and in Ontario, Canada.
“The cool thing about the Maker Movement is technology has changed the way that you can create products,” Gillam said.
A generation ago, people couldn’t access the tools needed to make their ideas, she said. They had to introduce the concept to a large-scale manufacturer, who then would have to invest thousands of dollars.
“You kind of almost had to sell the idea before you could ever make it. Now there are so many tools that you can really fabricate a lot of things yourself,” Gillam said.
Some of the most popular tools at Gangplank Avondale are 3D printers available to anyone who wants to learn how to use them.
At the open house, a small group of children gathered around one of the 3D printers to watch it slowly build an octopus from white plastic.
Jim Kelly, a computer engineer and Avondale resident, attended the open house with his 2-year-old son and 9-month-old son. He said such events give them an experience beyond television and video games.
“They see it as playing, but they don’t realize that they’re learning at the same time,” he said.
Micah Lande, an assistant professor of engineering at Arizona State University, said the Maker Movement provides hands-on education that can be much more valuable than reading a textbook.
“As an educator, it’s a great opportunity for people to take what they’re interested in and have an excuse to play and learn and build,” Lande said.
Jeremy Babendure, executive director of the Arizona Sci-Tech Festival, said Gangplank joins a legion of hackerspaces, startup labs and festivals in Arizona that aim to foster innovation.
“It’s really helping to bridge people’s creativity with craftsmanship and science and technology. It kind of pools it all together,” he said.
The Maker Movement has primarily picked up in the East Valley, where companies such as Intel and Apple look for qualities like innovation and creativity when hiring, Babendure said.
In Chandler, near where the first Gangplank opened, a large warehouse maker space called TechShop opened in January next to the ASU Chandler Innovation Center. General Manager Jon Barbara said he’s excited to help the community.
“Chandler is a really sort of up-and-coming area, lots of technology-based companies. It’s almost a hub right now for new companies to be coming into,” he said.
With eight locations across the U.S., TechShop offers more heavy-duty tools than spaces like Gangplank, Barbara said, from laser cutters to plasma torches to industrial sewing machines.
It all adds up to more than $1 million in equipment, he said, and the space is funded by monthly memberships that cost $125 for the general public and less for students.
Dale Tersey, director of a hackerspace in Tucson called Xerocraft, said the Maker Movement follows a tradition of independence in the U.S. that dates back to the late 1800s when Edison made the light bulb and Ford perfected the assembly line.
“Moving forward, we have fully progressed into the mass-manufacturing paradigm of the 20th century,” Tersey said. “But now we’re drifting back to the people who want to make something themselves, either to invent it and try to market it or just to satisfy a personal need.”
Joe Hudy, a 16-year-old resident of Anthem, helped the Maker Movement gain national recognition two years ago when he attended the White House Science Fair. President Barack Obama noticed Hudy’s bright orange marshmallow cannon and used it to shoot a marshmallow across the State Dining Room.
Since then, he’s started a blog called “Look What Joey’s Making!” and regularly visits Maker Fairs across the world with the motto, “Don’t be bored, make something.”
“The Maker Movement is however you want to do it, however you want to look at it. However you want to build it, you can build it,” Hudy said.
That includes slime, as evidenced by kids visiting the slime station at Gangplank Avondale’s Maker Open House again and again.
“We’re trying to teach kids that anybody can be a maker,” said Gillam, Gangplank’s executive director. “It’s really kind of a DIY (do-your-own) thing, and it allows you to kind of take your own creativity and amplify it.”