Nova Labs

There are a couple things you should know about me.  I am not allowed to read Martha Stewart’s Living.  I am not allowed to go into Michael’s unsupervised.  I can go into Home Depot unsupervised, but that’s only because I’m fully aware that I don’t have a large workshop with a full-sized table saw.


The first Christmas after we got married, my new father-in-law asked my husband what I wanted for Christmas…and was rather taken aback in a 1950s-gender-roles kind of way when the answer was “a Makita (cordless drill).”

I like making stuff.  I like it so much that sometimes my plans and dreams exceed my abilities.  And a lot of my ideas exceed my resources.  What I really need is a large, well-stocked workshop with some skilled and tolerant folks in it, to teach me and to help out.  I need a makerspace!  But although makerspaces and the Maker movement have been growing since the Nineties, as far as I knew there weren’t any around here.  I assumed DC types are just too much of knowledge workers, and don’t work with their hands (no, Excel doesn’t count).

Hackerspace_billboardIf you haven’t  heard of makerspaces (also called hackerspaces, FabLabs, or TechShops), you can think of them as clubhouses for creative types.  A makerspace provides people with a space to build things, kind of like a garage or a basement workshop, but because it’s supported by all members, it’s stocked with an amazing array of tools that no one would have the space or money to maintain at home.  It’s also social, so you can collaborate, learn how to do new things, and share ideas with like-minded folks.  It’s an incubator for creation, and a chance to go beyond what you could do on your own.

Hackerspaces with open membership became common within Germany in the 1990s in the orbit of the German Chaos Computer Club, with C-base specialized in open-source software and hardwareIn 2006, Paul Bohm came up with a fundraising strategy to build Metalab in Vienna, Austria.  As of 2012, there are an estimated 700 to 1,100 active hackerspaces all over the world and the numbers are growing.  The advent of crowdfunding and Kickstarter have put the tools required to build hackerspaces within reach of an even wider audience, with the biggest growth being in the Middle East.

nova-labs_logo_1800x900When I returned from overseas to Reston in January, I discovered Nova Labs.  It’s fittingly located on Sunset Hills where the cross streets are all named for famous inventors and tinkerers: Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Roger Bacon, Alexander Bell.  I was a little nervous about heading in – it’s been there for a while and it was started by a group of friends, so I expected it to be at best clique-y or at worst NO GIRLS ALLOWED.  But using my son as an excuse (as I do with the Lego store), I went to an open house for 3D printing.

2013-08-03 14.00.26I was expecting something like M5 Industries, Jamie Hyneman’s workshop on Mythbusters.  And it’s a lot like that, just much smaller, a couple bays of an industrial park.  Guys were working in the open carpentry shop, and other folks were bringing in their printers and laptops.  Right inside the door is a Plexiglas box containing some wiring and LEDs.  It’s a cool-looking light switch, with that extra Maker flair: when a member flips the switch, it updates the Nova Labs Web site and Twitter feed to let people know the facility is open to visit.

There’s a quadrocopter hanging over a jukebox; Nova just used this to do an aerial survey of the Reston Metro Station which they presented to the Committee for Dulles.  Beyond that is a small library, a room with a laser cutter that I cannot WAIT to learn to use, a small workshop with boxes of everything from Legos to Arduinos, a larger workshop and classroom, and the carpentry and “big stuff” shop.

Like many makerspaces, it has different levels of membership – you can just drop by per event (sometimes there’s a charge), you can be a key-holding member, or you can take more of an ownership role.  All participants are welcome to help keep the fridge stocked, and abide by the code of conduct.

  1. All members are required to “Be excellent to each other.”
  2. Don’t catch on fire or set others on fire or set anything else on fire which has not been designated or designed to be on fire.

2013-08-03 14.34.35Everyone at the 3D printing day was both geeky and nice, happy to share their knowledge with any and all of the kids and adult there.  I immediately signed up online to get notified about events (costume making and laser cutting for me, Take-Apart Days and robots for my son).  There are also game nights, cooking classes, and app development times. The makerspace has become home to several regional groups, including the FIRST Lego League, Herndon Robotics, and the DC Area Drone User Group, one of the largest groups of enthusiasts building and flying DIY drones in the country.

It turns out that knowledge workers like to work with their hands, too.

Nova Labs
11409 Sunset Hills Rd, Reston, VA
(571) 313-8908 ‎ ·

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