Institute debuts new Inspiration Lab

Institute debuts new Inspiration Lab

Danville’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research unveiled a new mobile lab Thursday morning, which Don Merricks, chairman of the Institute’s board of trustees, hopes will be a “game changer for the whole region.”

The mobile lab serves eight localities in the Dan River Region encompassing more than 4,000 square miles.

The Inspiration Lab will replace the old mobile lab, which will be used by Patrick Henry Community College, according to Julie Brown, director of advanced learning at the Institute. The mobile lab has travelled more than 60,000 miles over the last seven years, according to Merricks, and served more than 52,000 people.

“IALR provides a great number of opportunities right here at this site, but when it comes to the needs of our school systems, we go to them,” Merricks, a former Virginia delegate, said.

Institute Foundation President Kris Willard thanked sponsors from the Community Foundation of the Dan River Region, Mid-Atlantic Broadband and the Verizon Foundation.

“The Inspiration Lab alleviates the need for school systems to invest thousands of dollars in providing on-site high tech labs,” Willard said. “While the amount of technology and 3D printers are impressive, the wheels are the most important part, because the Inspiration Lab can be anywhere at any time.”

“We wanted the lab to have the same effect as this building does,” Brown said. “We wanted it to have that wow moment.”

It can serve as a mobile computer lab and a natural sciences lab.

“That flexibility was really important to us, and I think you’ll see that reflected in its design,” she said.

The lab was three years in the making, and was completed with $140 leftover in the budget, Brown said jokingly.


An exterior monitor shows what is happening inside the lab and has a tablet attached to it so that visitors can plug in a flash drive and have a design 3D printed and pick it up later.

“We think this might be the first example of ‘Netflix 3D printing’ in the country outside of a research facility,” Brown said. “Think of the access it would give our rural communities. It’s tremendous.”

The lab focuses on additive manufacturing, which is a fancy term for 3D printing. Designing, coding and printing can all be done in the mobile lab.

“We want to bring a one-on-one 3D printing experience to every middle schooler in the region,” Brown said. “That’s our goal.”

Currently in the lab, there is a fuse-deposition modeling printer and a flash forge unit, so users can use the type that is best suited for their design.

Interested users can find out where the lab is on Twitter by following @IALR_Lab. The lab will be travelling all over the region.


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