Babken Chugaszyan: "Armenia has a very strong cultural and scientific base"

Бабкен Чугасзян

Fab Lab is an international network consisting of more than five hundred laboratories, first appeared at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (hereinafter — MIT — approx.), and now it is distributed worldwide. We are part of this network. My task is to use all the knowledge and potential of this network in Armenia and systematize the work of Fab Lab.

Ayb School, being one of the leaders in the field of innovative education, really wanted to have a Fab Lab. In 2015, with the assistance of the Central Bank, a Fab Lab was opened in Dilijan and Yerevan. The first laboratory was in Dilijan: specialists from MIT came to us and placed equipment there.

To begin with, Fab Lab is equipment, but there is also a Fab Lab Academy program consisting of intensive courses that last six months and include the full range of knowledge. The courses cost five thousand dollars per person. We joined this program in 2019, and before that, for four years we operated as extracurricular robotics and vocational training laboratories, which are only a small part of Fab Lab's capabilities.

At the Fab Lab Academy, for example, there are lectures on 3D modeling and 3D scanning, computer design and manufacturing, Electronics Design, Prototyping, Embedded Programming, Interface and Application Programming and much more. The main lectures are given by professors from MIT under the guidance of regional professors. Fab Lab Academy allows specialists to get acquainted with everything they need — from electronics boards to furniture production — creating unique multidisciplinary specialists and teachers.

Fab Lab is a MakerSpace (public workshops where you can do anything — approx.). If there are 2500 Fab Labs around the world, then MakerSpace is much more. Graduates of the Fab Lab Academy can use MakerSpace in a variety of ways.

The founder of the Fab Lab Academy is MIT Professor Neil Gershenfield. He taught a subject at MIT called "How to Do almost Everything." Further, this subject underwent a transformation and its international version became the Fab Lab Academy. Every Wednesday, together with Fab Lab around the world, we connect online to Neil's lecture, which lasts three hours. During these three hours, he randomly checks homework from different places around the world, explains a new topic and gives homework. In addition to Neil, there are regional instructors with whom online meetings are organized. For example, we meet with instructors from Finland, France and the Netherlands.

We have offline meetings. At the end of each year, a Fab event is organized on different continents, where the entire maker community gathers. The last time the event was in Bali. Training camps with instructors in different countries are also organized. We hope that we will be able to bring these events to Dilijan. In this case, 5,000 people will come to the city, among whom there will be famous personalities in the maker culture.

Бабкен Чугасзян

What can the ecosystem of Armenia offer to the maker community?

Armenia has a very strong cultural and scientific base. The Armenian School of Natural Sciences is the merit of Mkhitar Sebastatsi, the founder of the School of Natural Sciences. He spent many years studying natural sciences in Venice. In Soviet times, the issue of education arose, the only Armenian-language textbooks that existed at that time were textbooks of the Order of the Mkhitarists. The knowledge and materials studied and accumulated over the centuries were brought to Armenia and introduced into the curriculum, which gave an amazing result: we have nuclear physics, the Mergelian Institute, the works of the Alikhanyan brothers as the founders of nuclear physics and the creators of the school of physics. After the collapse of the USSR, the biggest tragedy was not the destruction of production or the closure of factories, but the "brain drain."

Now one of our missions is to accumulate minds and knowledge from all over the world, which was also done by the Order of the Mkhitarists. Mkhitar Sebastatsi emigrated to Venice because Etchmiadzin did not accept innovations, namely printing and Sebastatsi's offer to study the latest technologies for that time. In Venice, he converted to Catholicism and was able to convince the Pope that Armenia would be an important center for the next Crusade, otherwise it is impossible to explain how the Pope was able to give him possession of the entire island of San Lazzaro.

What are we doing? We are the pioneers of the open-source movement and maker-movement in Armenia. All the software that we use is publicly available, we don't make money from it. In addition, when you work open-source, you give a gift to everyone you teach the program — you introduce it into the open-source community. This is important for our education and industry.

The industry is at the stage of a new revolution — the fourth industrial revolution, which is happening right now: for example, in the United States, 3D printers are being installed on aircraft carriers to print parts, bridges are being printed in Amsterdam, buildings in Germany. This is a new kind of industry where the role of man is drastically reduced and it turns out that machines create machines. Fab Lab will be able to easily and calmly teach the basics of mechanical engineering without a complicated university education, with the help of an intensive course.

The international graduation rate is only 40%, as the criteria are very strict. Roughly speaking, out of 200, only 80 will be able to finish it. We are trying to raise this rating: last year we had two students and both graduated, this year — four, and in a month they should graduate. I hope that's it.

Бабкен Чугасзян

What do the specialists who have completed the course do?

For example, I work here at the Fab Lab. We have Azniv, who works at the UWC International School in Dilijan and teaches Theory of knowledge; we have Ashot, who started his business in the field of metallurgy; we have Mariam, who is now implementing projects in the field of education. And also Mika, who went to the USA to study; Onik, who is now serving in the army, but we continue to work with him, he helps us in teaching; Ashot, an Armenian from Chile, who returned back to Chile. The spread can be large, but out of four students this year, we envisage that at least two remain to teach at the Fab Lab. We have the opportunity to take even more students, from eight to twelve. Maker-space in Armenia needs specialists in this area.

What kind of maker-spaces exist in Armenia?

They are at the American University, there is a pretty good maker-space with expensive machines, at the Polytechnic Institute, at YSU, the Vanadzor and Gyumri technological centers, as well as all Armat laboratories. Only a small part of them can work effectively, and the rest needs a Fab Academy. The prices and capabilities of the equipment may vary, but how they are used depends greatly on who uses them. For example, you can have a fantastic, expensive camera, but 70% of the result depends on the photographer. So Fab Lab equipment is not the most expensive and the best in the world, on the contrary, it is chosen on the principle of accessibility. Our strength is not in these machines, but in the people who operate them.

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