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MakeHaven includes those interested in or connected to medicine

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2019 - Summer


Gina Siddiqui, MD, had scarcely handled a screwdriver when she set foot last August in MakeHaven, the makerspace in downtown New Haven. “I didn’t know the difference between a screw and a bolt,” said Siddiqui, who’s in her third year of an emergency medicine residency at Yale New Haven Hospital. Over the course of the next 30 days, with training from MakeHaven staff, she mastered everything from a hammer and chisel to a laser cutter as she built her husband a present for his birthday in early September—a large format view camera.

Working with maple and balsa wood, she crafted a camera with a holder for 5x7-inch film negatives, a tripod mount, and railings to support the bellows and lens she bought from a photo supply house. “I found it incredibly invigorating,” Siddiqui said.

MakeHaven is one of about 100 community-based makerspaces around the country—part of a growing movement that emerged in the early 2000s as inventors, tinkerers, hobbyists, and artisans banded together to ply their crafts and indulge their passion for creativity. The fruits of those labors ranged from inventions that would obtain patents and spawn companies to toys that glow in the dark.

“There is some fundamental need and satisfaction in making something,” said MakeHaven board member Joel Greenwood, PhD, director of neurotechnology in the Department of Neuroscience at the School of Medicine. “We are getting further and further away from making things,” he lamented.

His passion for building comes from his childhood on a farm an hour south of Seattle, where his parents lived off the land, growing vegetables, and raising sheep and chickens. Greenwood’s father was a home builder who had a two-story woodshop on the property. “I grew up building stuff,” Greenwood said. At Yale, he helps neuroscientists solve problems by teaching them to build the tools they’ll need, or directing them to people who can make equipment for them.

Like its peer spaces around the country, MakeHaven offers its 300 members a place to work, access to tools, and a like-minded community that provides feedback and shares ideas and techniques. While New Haven has other makerspaces, like Yale’s Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, MakeHaven is the only one that’s open to the community at large.

The seeds for MakeHaven sprouted at a meetup in 2012. When critical mass grew to about 50 people, the participants chipped in to rent space on State Street and rummaged through their homes for tools. “Not all the tools were of the best quality,” said J.R. Logan, one of the founders and now executive director. “They were hand-me-downs.” In March 2018, MakeHaven moved to a larger space—5,000 square feet in the basement of 770 Chapel Street, a building that also houses SeeClickFix. Tools are no longer basement relics: they include woodworking and metalworking equipment, an electronics workbench, 3D printers, sewing machines, printing presses, and a home brewing machine. In addition to space, tools, and training, MakeHaven offers talks, classes, and workshops.

As MakeHaven grew, members realized they could no longer rely on volunteers to run the place day to day. Logan, whose father was an inventor, was the first full-time employee. Kate Cebik works full time as operations manager. Lior Treshman is MakeHaven’s part-time “maker guru.”

The space sustains itself with dues ($50 per month, $35 for students) and grants, including one from CTNext, which supports companies and entrepreneurs with funding and mentorship programs. Members come with a variety of ambitions. Some have patented their inventions, and some have given up their day jobs to pursue their projects. Others are hobbyists and tinkerers. “They find joy in whatever is their area of technology,” said Logan. “They wanted a platform and to be able to share it. It has broadened and gotten bigger.”

On a recent weekday, Nick McGhee was editing a presentation he and colleagues are making for a NASA design competition—a prototype of a human habitat for Mars. Upon their arrival on Mars, pioneers will need tools to turn Martian raw materials into a permanent home. “The project we worked on is to develop the necessary technology,” said McGhee, who recently left his job as an aerospace engineer to devote himself to the project. His project took third place and won $32,000.

Another member has used MakeHaven’s 3D printer to make prosthetic hands for children in the developing world. One member is working on a quadcopter, which is a helicopter lifted and propelled by four rotors. Still another is using DIY instructions available online to make a book scanner.

Like others involved in MakeHaven, founding member Ben Berkowitz, the CEO of SeeClickFix, grew up making things—his father was a carpenter. The past chair of MakeHaven’s board, he still makes toys for his children and decorations for his office. “MakeHaven,” he said, “is a place to learn new skills and share ideas, to build businesses, and for anyone to achieve their dreams of making something with their hands.”

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