RE: [rp-ml] Where are the Universities?

From: Marshall Burns (
Date: Sat Dec 31 2005 - 20:57:42 EET

Hi Bob,

> Marshall, what is your vision of a curriculum that would
> result in an accredited FabSci BS or MS?

        Fabricator science is the engineering discipline behind digital
manufacturing, the technology for making products directly from digital data
and raw materials. As such, it has four principal elements:

                -- Digital design. The technology for capturing
                        and representing the 3-D shape and structure
                        of a potential product. Includes CAD,
                        scanning, and mathematical data generation.

                -- Digital materials. A modern version of
                        materials science that studies the
                        characteristics (e.g. chemistry and physics)
                        of materials from the point of view of
                        controlling solidification processes so as
                        to predetermine the formation of specified
                        shapes and structures.

                -- Digital fabrication. Processes for formation of
                        solid materials in predetermined shapes and
                        structures under computer control.

                -- Digital products. How fabricators are used in
                        concert with other technologies to generate
                        useful products. The diverse fields of
                        application in which they are used.

        A program could be started with just a one- or two-semester course
that covered this ground. In time, this could be expanded into separate
courses on each area, as well as an introductory course that still covered
all four together. Ten years from now, schools may offer undergrad and grad
degrees in FS with emphases in each of these areas.

        There is another way to break down the field, which provides useful
ways to consider the content to be covered in the above areas:

                -- State of the art. The key technologies
                        available today.

                -- Underlying science. The basic physics,
                        chemistry, and other sciences (such as math
                        for CAD and scanning) necessary to truly
                        understand the technologies.

                -- Technology development. The process of invention
                        as applied to improving design, material, and
                        fabber technologies, and to developing
                        completely new technologies. Fabbers are the
                        bridge to nanotechnology. Concepts include
                        freeform fab, formative fab, guided
                        accretion, and artificial embryology.

                -- Application development. Conceiving new ways to
                        utilize fabber and allied technologies for
                        the delivery of products or other uses.
                        Concepts include "Napster fabbing" or
                        "e-fab," "customation," and applications in

                -- Economics and entrepreneurship. How these
                        technologies affect the conduct of business
                        in a company, in a home, in a community,
                        within a nation, and around the world. The
                        dire needs creating opportunities to be

        Initially, these topics would be covered within the contexts of the
previous list of four areas of study. In the long run, however, there will
be entire courses on each of these topics, as well as the most important
subtopics within them, and people will earn degrees with emphases defined
along these lines as well.

> Second, what kind of faculty (and how many) and facilities
> do you think would be present in a FabSci Department in a
> College of Engineering?

        We're probably too early to be thinking about starting up a whole
FabSci department from scratch today. (Unless you've got a few million $$
you want to throw at the idea.) This is something that can grow organically
with a strong commitment inside a mechanical engineering, materials science,
or other similar department that has two or three faculty doing world-class
research on fabber technology (or hires in some good people like that to
start a program). This research forms the intellectual base for the
establishment of the curriculum.

        The initial faculty will probably be mechanical engineers, materials
scientists, computer scientists, chemists, and/or biomechanical engineers,
but could also be electrical engineers, physicists, mathematicians,
biologists, and people from other fields.

        As that list of disciplines suggests, this is an inherently
multidisciplinary field. One good way to grow an FS department would be to
start it within an existing department, but to develop a defined
interdisciplinary program that cuts across numerous departments and even
schools within a university. A truly great program would bring together
participants from the medical and dental schools, the fine arts, commercial
arts, and media arts departments, the business school, and even the law
school for discussion of intellectual property issues of digital products.
As the program grows, it would eventually outgrow its home within the
originating department and whatever political process is involved would
transform it into an independent department. Ideally, this transition would
take place while maintaining the relationships (for example with faculty
joint appointments) with disparate departments and schools across the

        As to the optimal number of faculty and the facilities, I don't have
a good answer for those questions and would need to give them some more
thought. If I were answering this for an actual project to be implemented, I
would do it in collaboration with people who know university planning and
facility and laboratory planning, which are not my forte.

        Looking at the world today, I would guess that a program like this
will first appear outside the United States. Something like it may already
have started in China, for all I know.

> Or, in the alternative, what kind of faculty (and how many)
> and facilities do you think would be present in a FabSci
> Center reporting to a VP-Research?

        Wow, I don't think I understand this question. Do you mean, on a
campus like the Watson Center or the old Bell Labs? I wouldn't even think of
companies starting up a program like this anymore, but maybe it's something
that could be done at a Microsoft or a Google, if they decided to get
interested in the software of making physical products. I'm not really sure
how my answer would be different for an environment like that than at a
university, but it could be an interesting question to think about.

        Well, Bob, you really got me started here! Have a happy New Year.

Best regards,
Marshall Burns

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