Gregory Washington, dean of UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and a strong advocate for American manufacturing, recently attended the first White House Makers Faire, which spotlighted production innovation at campuses nationwide. UC Irvine showcased its 3-D design and printing capabilities, including the National Center for Rapid Technologies, or Rapid Tech. The nonprofit trains students in 3-D techniques and provides faculty and private businesses with efficiently produced, critically needed product prototypes.

Washington mingled with the host of the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” educational TV show, musical super star and other creative minds. What most impressed him were products he saw from schools.

“Students had designed and built items ranging from shoes that can charge your cell phone to a device that make 3-D printed pancakes to a full blown home,” Washington said.  “I was amazed at the level of sophistication of the students nationally.”

At UCI, students have designed and made a 3D-printed wheelchair to traverse a variety of terrains and a 3D-printed replica of a blind U.S. Marine’s skull that helped surgeons diagnose his problem and restore his sight.

Private customers have also relied on Rapid Tech, including Gourmet Puree, a unique Orange County small business that creates pureed food shaped to look like its original form for people with special diet needs.

Washington said the event, while highlighting what has been done, will spur even greater growth.

“I want to commend President Obama for his leadership in establishing the Makers Faire,” said Washington. “We will heed his call to action. Over the next year we will expand our innovation infrastructure here on campus and help students and the community turn ideas into prototypes.  We will offer access to 3D printers, 3D scanners, virtual and physical design studios and custom design and fabrication services.  We will create a nation of makers here at UCI.”