Spirit of Innovation to come alive at the new collab lab

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By Bob Cunningham

Libraries used to be known strictly as places of silence because talking could interrupt the learning process of the students around you.

Oh, how times have changed.

Now, talking is actually encouraged in certain parts of the library, especially at the future home of Bowling Green State University’s Collab Lab in the Jerome Library.

The Collab Lab will be a hands-on, creative space for students, faculty, staff and community members to engage in collaborative work. Its goal will be to support teams of innovators working together to conceive, create, develop and refine new products and services that leverage the unique talents inherent to the University community.

“The common misconception in the world is that inventions are made by individuals,” said Dr. Michael Ogawa, vice president for research and economic development at BGSU. “Thomas Edison had a lot of people working with him when he created the light bulb. Invention and innovation is really a collaborative process, and if we can begin to help students and faculty engage in these types of collaborative interactions, who knows what can happen?”

The lab, an easily accessible 2,000-square-foot facility, will have a director, Dr. Jerry Schnepp, and a support staff, along with rapid prototyping tools such as 3-D printers and scanners, a green-screen video studio with voice-over capabilities for video production, and whiteboards.  

With the Collab Lab, Schnepp hopes to attract some of the University’s most creative types, both students and faculty.

“The idea of taking a physical space is we want people to go there and have resources,” said Schnepp, an assistant professor in the College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering. “A lot of people have ideas, but bringing an idea from a conceptual stage into something that’s tangible, whether it’s an actual physical thing or if it’s just a well-thought-out idea, that’s where people usually get caught up. And what we find, when innovation happens, it really is fostered by cooperation between individuals.”

Sometimes, collaborative innovation happens naturally. One example is Geograph, which was created by faculty from different disciplines in response to Toledo’s toxic algal bloom in 2014, when U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur called on citizen scientists to test the water.

The Geograph app allows people to use the GPS on their smartphones so they know exactly where and when the sample was taken.  

“And there’s a filter — basically like a litmus strip — and they use the camera on the phone to read this strip, and it will automatically analyze the chemical properties of the sample and upload it. Essentially, it’s crowdsourcing for water testing,” Schnepp said.

Ogawa, Schnepp and Sara Bushong, University Libraries dean, toured other universities with similar labs, including Harvard, Case Western Reserve and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They imagine the possibilities for BGSU’s Collab Lab, which they hope to roll out with an opening during the fall 2016 semester.

“What already happens on campus naturally can happen on a bigger scale and more often, even with just a little bit of a push,” Schnepp said. “That’s one of the major advantages of the Collab Lab — to reinforce that these activities already have really high value to us.”  

Plus, having the Collab Lab in the library is a natural fit. Just call it the ongoing evolution of BGSU’s Library Services.

“It’s always been our job to give students and faculty what they need to be successful. The Collab Lab fits well in that philosophy,” Bushong said.