PHYSCI 70: Introduction to Digital Fabrication
Tues & Thurs 3:00 - 4:15pm
Instructor: Nathan Melenbrink

SC 102 Lab Inventory

Course Description

A hands-on introduction to rapid prototyping, integrating physics and engineering, design, computer science and art. Students will learn to safely use software and hardware to fabricate programmable projects. Tools and topics will include electronic circuit design, 3D CAD, programmable microcontrollers, and wireless networking (Internet of Things). Additionally, students will learn operational principles for techniques such as laser cutting, 3D printing, and computer-controlled milling. Students will work with course staff to prepare their design files and remotely operate machines, after which the components will be mailed to them. Applications may include personal fabrication, product prototyping, fine arts and the creation of scientific research tools. The course will culminate with an individual final project, integrating as many of the topics as possible. Each student will document work on each weekly topic in a personal website, thereby finishing the course with an online portfolio that not only illustrates their new skill sets, but also contributes to a collective repository of knowledge that serves as a foundation for continued learning.

Course Notes

Attendance is mandatory since lab safety training will occur during class times. Class will meet twice each week. The first meeting will consist of a discussion of the previous week’s assignment, followed by a short introduction to the current week’s topic and assignment. The second meeting may include a short lecture but will primarily focus on a hands-on training session for the accompanying assignment. Meetings may also include appearances by guest presenters or experts on a particular topic.

Recommended Prep

There are no formal prerequisites for this course. Students are expected to provide their own laptop computer (tablets and Chromebooks are not sufficient for some of the software required for this course, but workarounds may be available -- please contact course staff with concerns).

Related Sections

In addition to the twice-weekly lecture times, the course staff will be available for lab sections scheduled throughout the week. Students are required to attend at least one lab section per week to check in with course staff on their progress, and are otherwise free to attend as many additional sections as they like.

Lab Access

Lab access will be 24/7 once lab safety training is complete. TFs will be available during flexibly scheduled lab times. For some topics, supervision will be needed as students learn to operate machines safely. For each lab session, students should take care to follow shop safety guidelines.

Shop Safety Guidelines

Shop After-Hours Rules


Students will be assessed on the basis of website documentation (60%), the documentation and presentation of the final project (20%) and attendance and participation (20%). Only work that is documented on the personal page will be considered for grading.

Attendance: Please don't email us about missing class. We take attendace every class; it's important to attend every class for essential safety and skill training, and it's important to us to know who's been trained on what. You're either present or you're not. If you do need to miss class, it's your responsibility to come to open lab times to make up what you missed.

Documentation: Thorough documentation on your personal page is required in order to earn full credit for assignments (60% of total grade). A well-documented assignment is one that provides sufficient information for someone else to fully recreate your project. At a minimum this requires photographs, screenshots, and a thorough written description of the steps taken, and may also require code snippets, movies, 3D models and/or links to outside resources. Here is an example of a well-documented assignment. Instructors will provide examples and precedents for each assignment. Documentation will be assessed throughout the semester, and instructors will provide mid-term feedback. If you're not happy with your mid-term grades, you'll have the opportunity to revise your documentation and request that assignments be re-assessed.

Extensions: Please don't email us asking for extensions. We effectively offer extensions to every student for every assignment, in the sense that documentation can be (re)submitted up until the end of the semester for nearly full credit. We'll look at assignment documentation each Thursday at 3pm when it is due. At the end of the semester, we will re-evaluate any assignments at the student's request for up to 90% of full credit (4.5/5). What we expect is that most everyone will have their assignments complete and ready to demonstrate for the class by Thursday at 3pm -- this makes the class engaging and exciting (interesting "failures" are also important to share!).

Assignment documentation grades are out of 5. Scores indicate the following:

Late work will be evaluated on the same scale up to a maximum of 4.5/5, which is still an excellent grade. However, in order to do well in the class, it is important to stay on top of each weekly topic; i.e., it's better to skip one week and make it up later than to be consistently ~1 day late on assignments.

Final Project: Students are asked to present an idea for a final project at the start of the semester, which is expected to evolve over the duration of the course. Students will have weekly opportunities for advising on final project ideation. Final projects should integrate most of the skills covered over the semester, including at a minimum:


Week Class
1: Jan 23 01: Introduction, Lab, Safety, Documentation / HTML
2: Jan 30 02: 2D design and cutting, Vinyl cutter/Laser cutter
3: Feb 6 03: Hand tools and fabrication, Mechanical design
4: Feb 13 04: Microcontroller Programming
5: Feb 20 05: 3D design, 3D scanning and printing
6: Feb 27 06: Sensors. Electronic input devices
7: Mar 5 07: Electronic output devices
Mar 12 Spring Break
8: Mar 19 08: CNC milling. Toolpaths 2D and 3D. Molding & Casting.
9: Mar 26 09: Wired, Radio, Wifi and Bluetooth communication (IoT)
10: Apr 2 10: Machine building, End effectors
11: Apr 9 13: Project integration
12: Apr 16 12: Wildcard Week: Circuit Board Fabrication, Composites, Sewing, etc.
13: Apr 23 11: Interfacing projects with computers, Computer programming
14: Apr 30 14: Project development (no class, office hours only)
15: May 9 15: (Exam week) Final project presentations