Engineering and design students partner up to redesign lab space

Renovations in Keller Hall should be complete by the fall.

Labs in Keller Hall serve engineering student groups such as Innovative Engineers throughout the year.

Emily Dunker

Labs in Keller Hall serve engineering student groups such as Innovative Engineers throughout the year.

Elizabeth Ryan

John Phillips and Sam Finnegan were hard at work in Kenneth H. Keller Hall the week after spring semester ended, adding the eyes to clay busts of University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, which they were using to make an animatronic barbershop quartet.

Phillips and Finnegan are members of Tesla Works, an engineering and design student group. Tesla Works has been fighting for more student lab space for years because space is always booked up, said Hunter Dunbar, vice president of Tesla Works.

Now, the College of Science and Engineering is working with three student groups, including Tesla Works, and students from the College of Design to redesign and renovate three rooms in Keller Hall for student groups’ use. Renovations should start this summer and be finished before fall semester starts.

Between research, student group meetings and engineering courses, it’s difficult for students to find space to work on their own projects, said Kyle Dukart, a CSE academic advisor. Redesigning the rooms will allow students 24-hour lab access.

Dukart said CSE will foot the $20,000 bill for the renovation, which is still being finalized and approved by CSE administration.

A group of CSE students first presented the idea to administrators last spring, but the project “got serious” in the fall, Dukart said. Along with Tesla Works, Innovative Engineers and Eta Kappa Nu are collaborating on the redesign.

Overall, more than 25 students are working on the project, including several from CDes.

Architecture senior Sarah Wolf redesigned the labs to make them more user-friendly by clearing out old workbenches, adjusting the lab layout and adding a new sink.

“We’re excited to get more kids in the room, and hopefully more people will join student groups,” said Alex Miller, vice president of Innovative Engineers.

Miller said Tesla Works is also building a new program, FIDO, to help manage the space.

FIDO will be a centralized computer service comparable to the artificially-intelligent computer J.A.R.V.I.S from the “Iron Man,” series, Dunbar said. The system would control access to the labs and help with safety concerns.

“It will only turn on a power tool if you are able to use it and have the training to use it,” Dunbar said.

The group began designing FIDO this year, and Dunbar said a prototype should be ready by December.

The newly renovated lab space will showcase student projects like FIDO and the animatronic Kaler barbershop quartet. Prospective students visiting the University can tour Keller Hall and see a hands-on workspace for engineering students outside of class.

Miller said she hopes tour groups visit the newly renovated labs in the fall often.

“I would hope the inner nerd in them comes out a little bit and thinks, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really cool!’”