PHABLABS 4.0: a new ECOP project that adds the power of photonics to Fab Labs

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PHABLABS 4.0 aims to inspire young minds, future generations of technicians, engineers and entrepreneurs by making photonics accessible through the ecosystem of Fab Labs in Europe. For this European project, a Photonics Public Private Partnership supported by Photonics21 and Horizon2020, 11 partners and institutes in photonics join forces with 14 pilot Fab Labs. Most of the Photonics partners are members of ECOP (European Centres for Outreach in Photonics). These include VUB, ICFO, NUI and FBH/MBI, where VUB is the ccordinator of this H2020 project and ICFO leads one of the workpackages.

The existing European eco-system of Fab Labs offers the ideal makers platform where young minds and entrepreneurs can effectively experiment with science, tools and the newest technology.  Integrating photonics and its many applications in Fab Labs and Makers Spaces, allows young people to put seemingly unattainable ideas into practice with laser equipment, LED, lenses and optical fiber up to programmable electronic chips in a way that is fun and inspiring.  PHABLABS 4.0. can spark ideas, pave the road to innovative concepts and might subsequently be a starting point for a bright future as a technician, engineer or researcher.

The ambitious roadmap of PHABLABS 4.0 encompasses the development of a suite of 33 Photonics Workshops, 11 Photonics Challenger projects and Photonics Toolkits customized for 3 specific user groups: young minds (10-14 y), students (15-18 y) and young professionals or technicians (+18 years).

Photonics Workshops cover in total 11 different topics that help to understand the wide variety of applications in photonics. Through the tailored modules for each target group, participants will work towards a specific objective or result.

Photonics Challenger Projects start from a well-defined challenge that needs research and creativity to design. Participants will elaborate and test new ideas with a link to other Key Enabling Technologies (KET). A final Photonics Challenger Project Contest raises the bar to develop game-changing projects.

Photonics Toolkits for Workshops or Challenger Projects are low-cost boxes that provide the Fab Labs with a core set of photonics components to facilitate ongoing innovation and stimulate curiosity. Tools, such as optical fibers, optical design software and 3D printer with transparent material, that are not yet available in Fab Labs will be provided.

Each module will stimulate hands-on design, fabrication, experiments, and the building of innovative systems with photonics components. Next to personal development, teamwork and co-creation, the PHABLABS 4.0 modules nurture the 21st Century skills of the participants.