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Where the ‘beaver works’

A collaborative space at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, called the Beaver Works Center, will create new opportunities in project-based learning.

The cheerful, oversized beaver at the door of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Beaver Works Center says it all: This is a space where the “skunkworks” (or "do-it-yourself") philosophy of MIT takes center stage.

Beaver Works, a newly renovated space at 300 Technology Square (just off the MIT campus), was created through a partnership arrangement between the Lincoln Laboratory and the School of Engineering. Intended as a nexus for innovation, collaboration, and hands-on development, and to further strengthen and expand connections between MIT students and researchers and the practicing engineers and researchers at the Lincoln Laboratory, Beaver Works is part workshop, part classroom — and all MIT.

“Innovation is very important to us at MIT, and Beaver Works feeds right into that,” said President Rafael L. Reif at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 12. “We are looking forward to working with Lincoln Lab and to learning from each other so we can accelerate what we do here in Cambridge.”

The motivation behind the venture was simple, says Ian A. Waitz, dean of the School of Engineering. “We wanted to establish more meaningful connections between the exciting work that was happening at Lincoln Lab and on the MIT campus. Beaver Works is a place where people from these two parts of our institution can deeply engage in exciting educational and research collaborations.”

These collaborations will provide MIT students with more authentic practical learning opportunities and jointly enable the Lincoln Laboratory and MIT to serve the nation more effectively.

“This facility is dedicated to the proposition that innovative engineering prototyping is an art,” says Eric D. Evans, director of the Lincoln Laboratory. “That art can be learned through experience on great projects, and we want to help by working with the great students, faculty, and staff on campus.”

This forward-looking view is shared by Robert T-I. Shin, head of the Lincoln Laboratory’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and tactical systems division, who has been the primary driver behind making the Beaver Works vision a reality. “We expect many great innovations from Lincoln Beaver Works, but the truly exciting part is the opportunity to shape the next generation of engineers and leaders in a way that will stay with them forever — they are the future.”

Beaver Works is chartered to pursue synergies between campus research and Lincoln Laboratory technology areas, with the goal of generating innovative solutions and exposing a new generation of students to opportunities in engineering, research, and service to the nation. It pursues this mission through a broad range of research and educational activities, including capstone courses, joint research projects, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, undergraduate internships, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) outreach for local schools.

Research activities are already under way in unmanned aerial vehicle systems, autonomous underwater vehicle propulsion, robotics, cybersecurity, and smart cities, with future projects planned in transportation, supercomputing, and advanced devices. Beaver Works will also host multiple Independent Activity Period courses this January, including a range of “build a radar” courses, open-source microfluidics for synthetic biology, and hands-on computational imaging and spectroscopy.

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