The University of Illinois Springfield Computer Science Department has opened a new high-tech research laboratory in the basement of the Health and Sciences Building. It’s called the Orion Lab, named after UIS’ mascot. The lab is open to all UIS students, faculty and staff for their research projects.
The lab includes 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters and engravers, computing, cyber security and fabrication equipment. Faculty and peers provide guidance on how to use the equipment in order to complete projects.
“The Orion Lab was built to provide a hands-on learning environment where students can experiment with tools and materials to create physical objects,” said Joshua Smith, a UIS computer science instructor and director of the lab. “This type of experiential learning can help students develop problem-solving skills, creativity and critical thinking skills.”
Smith said the lab will help expand collaborative learning and gives students access to more equipment. Students are encouraged to reach out to each other for help on topics. They also get to use complex and expensive machines that they would normally only be able to read about. This gives UIS students a competitive edge in the job market.
“The Orion Lab also builds a sense of community among students, especially those interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields,” Smith said. “This can provide opportunities for networking, mentorship and collaboration both within the university and with industry partners.”
The Orion Lab officially opened in late January and is already leading to entrepreneurial opportunities for students. Some of the research projects underway in the lab include building an underwater remote-operated vehicle, a low-cost jet plane capable of Mach 2.5 and a hydroponics tower to grow plants in a limited footprint.
Sophomore Information Systems Security major Logan Buchele is building the hydroponics tower, along with a model airplane, arcade machine and a gaming console using the equipment in the Orion Lab.
“I have found the lab to be incredibly beneficial in several ways,” he said. “First and foremost, the lab has given me hands-on experience with technology, which I wouldn't have been able to get from traditional classroom learning alone. Being able to actually build and program things has given me a deeper understanding of how these systems work, as well as the challenges involved in developing them.”
Smith said the purpose of the lab is to give students the opportunity to develop and test their own product ideas.
“This can be a valuable experience for students interested in entrepreneurship and may help them gain practical experience in product development, marketing and other business-related skills,” he said.
The Orion Lab was funded by the Computer Science Department, with help from UIS Facilities and Services and fundraising efforts.
“Within the next few months, the Orion Lab plans to add a Cyber Warfare Range, additional 3D printers, high-end computing workstations and electronics workbenches,” Smith said.
Buchele said the hands-on experience and skills he’s learned from working in the Orion Lab will benefit him in the future.
“The lab helps me learn about the latest developments and trends in the field, which is important for any technology-related job to stay current and competitive,” he said. “By learning about the newest technologies and applications, I can put myself in a position to get a job in the future.”