Located in the Trailside Building at Northern Virginia Community College’s Manassas campus, the Fab Lab is a world-class, state-of-the-art makerspace available to all NOVA students, faculty, staff, and the greater education community. The Fab Lab’s mission is to define and share a more holistic experience in the Digital Fabrication arena by providing access to the most advanced fabrication processes, training in 3D modeling, and a foundation in the principles of Design Thinking and creative problem-solving.  

You can access the Fab Lab by attending one of our workshops, demonstrations, and special events or requesting a class collaboration, field trip, or tour. We also provide informal offerings such as our free open lab sessions for personal projects, bi-annual design challenges and competitions for students. The Fab Lab staff are versed in a myriad of topics such as electronics and coding, operating fabrication equipment, design software, soft circuits, sewing, woodworking, robotics, additive manufacturing (3D printing), and more. So, whatever you want to make, we can support you.

Visit us today; we would love to show you around.


NOVA Makers is a membership program, which opens the NOVA Fab Lab to NOVA Students, Faculty and Staff to work on personal projects during our Open Labs.

How does it work?

NOVA Students, Faculty, and Staff

  1. Enroll in the NOVA Makers Course on Canvas.
  2. On Canvas, pass the online Safety Orientation Certification and fill out the release form, which will make you an official member!
  3. Come-in during open lab hours to use machines and equipment. If it is your first time visiting or you need some help, ask a NOVA Fab Lab staff member for assistance.

Membership Fee

NOVA Makers is free for NOVA students, faculty, and staff.

Summer Lab Hours

Open Lab

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday | 5:00 - 9:00 p.m.

Spring 2024 sessions are now available on Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. For full details and registration, visit fablab.novastem.us/JrMaker

Date  Session
February 10 Casting Chocolate Legos  (Vacuum Forming)
February 24 Soft Circuit Creatures  (Circuitry & Hand Sewing)
March 9 Build a Mini Greenhouse (Wood Working & Vacuum Forming)
March 23 Animatronics Stuffed Animal  (Coding & Microelectronics)
April 6 3D Print a Monster  (Clay Modeling & 3D Printing)
April 20 T-Shirt & Jewelry (UV Printing & Laser Cutting)
May 4 Build a Birdhouse - NEW!  (Wood Working and Painting)
May 18 Stomp Rockets - NEW!  (Design Thinking and Fabrication)
June 1 Laser Cut Airplanes - NEW! (Laser Cutting)
June 15 Sew a Custom Handbag – NEW! (Machine Sewing)

Community Makers provides free access to the NOVA Fab Lab for community members interested in Digital Fabrication and Making with limited access to digital fabrication equipment and training. To be considered for this program, interested individuals can apply online for a limited number of openings.

This program is popular with:

  • Local Educators
  • Local Librarians
  • High School Students (age restricted)
  • Home School Students (age restricted)
  • Interested Volunteers / Mentors

The Fab Lab works with NOVA classes to support projects, lessons, and relevant activities. Support and activities can be provided in-person in the actual lab, virtually, or as a hybrid approach.


Interested in discussing how the lab can support your class? If so, contact the Fab Lab at fablab@nvcc.edu, 703.530.3505, or submit an interest form.

In this one-week camp, participants will explore various ways to design and make objects. This introduction to fabrication involves using design software, solving design problems, and learning about fabrication tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC routers. These concepts will be applied in a hands-on format in the form of design challenges throughout the week.

Sample Activities

  • Design a product that converts a common household item into a toy or game
  • Design or revise a product that makes your school life easier

The NOVA Fab Lab offers workshops in Design Thinking and Fabrication to help students learn critical skills such as problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, and empathy. Each workshop is 3-hours long, starting at 9:00 a.m. and concluding at noon.

All materials, supplies, tools, instructors, and support staff are provided by the Fab Lab. In addition, each workshops will include a brief tour of the Fab Lab.

The base cost for each workshop is $200, plus a $5 fee per student/participant. Schools or programs that are financially limited may be eligible for free workshops (excluding transportation).

Field Trip Activity Options

Design Thinking: Apollo 13 Challenge

Isolated teams must work together using only walkie-talkies for communication to solve, fabricate, and test a universal problem using limited supplies.

Design Thinking: Launch Vehicle Challenge

Teams design, fabricate, and test custom stomp-rockets to transport a delicate payload to a designated landing zone.

Design Thinking: Animal Design Challenge

Teams must define, design, prototype, and defend a fictional animal able to survive in a designated environment.

For more information or to schedule a field trip, contact the NOVA Fab Lab at fablab@nvcc.edu or 703.530.3505 or via our Field Trip Request Form.

NOVA Fab Lab Design Challenge - Spring 2024

The Brief

Design a product to help improve the well-being of an animal.


The behavior and wellbeing of all living things is greatly affected by the environment they live in. Think of a favorite pet or animal, wild or domestic, you are particularly fond of. Consider the current and the ideal habitat for this creature.

Design a component of the habitat or a device that would improve the animal’s existing living conditions, help it rehabilitate, or better coexist with humans. The design can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish.

Open to middle school, high school, homeschool, and post-secondary students within the United States. Both individuals and teams of up to 3 students may compete.

February 23, 2024 – Design Submission Portal Opens
April 14, 2024 – Design Submission Portal Closes at 11:59PM
April 22, 2024 – Finalists Announced
May 10, 2024 – Awards Ceremony

Grand Champion – Prusa MK4 3D printer, + we will fabricate a scale model of your design.
Division Champions* – Prusa Mini+

*Divisions: Middle School, High School, and Post-Secondary

Design Requirements
Your solution MUST be a design for a product that can be fabricated in our lab. Reminder, you are submitting ONLY an idea with an accompanying design as your solution – not an actual physical product or prototype. You will submit your product design digitally using the Entry Form.

How to Submit
All entries must be submitted online at http://fablab.novastem.us/DesignChallenge. You will submit your product design digitally using the Entry Form.

Entry Form
The Entry Form will walk you through the required components which will include:

  • Name of product
  • Description of your design (maximum 500 words).
  • Explain the challenge the animal of your choice faces in its current habitat.
  • Explain how your product will work and how it would benefit the animal.
  • Explain how the product fits in the overall habitat.
  • Provide at least two different types of references to justify the needs and ideal habitat for the animal your product supports.
    • References supporting your research can be attached as a word document, hyperlinks, PDF files, images, or a link to video (do not upload actual video), or commonly used citation formats.
  • Provide a graphical/visual representation of your design in one of the following formats:
    • digital version of a hand drawing
    • a 2D or 3D digital design file
    • digital documentation of a prototype or fabrication
    • a video (include link to video in a document or PDF, do not upload actual video).

Note: Any uploaded files must be PDF, JPEG, PNG, STL, OBJ, SVG, DOC, DOCX file types. Maximum size of each file is 10 MB, up to 3 files can be uploaded per submission.

Judging Criteria

  • Creativity — How innovative is your idea?
  • Aesthetics — Is your design visually pleasing?
  • Feasibility — Can the design be built?
  • Effectiveness — Does your design solve the identified challenge? Can the product be modified to increase its impact on a larger scale? Habitats of other animals?

Helpful Resources

  • Attend one of our free Design Challenge prep-sessions! We will be offering workshops in Design Thinking that will help you learn how to solve complex problems. See schedule and locations below.
    • Saturday, March 2, 2024, 9AM-11AM @ the NOVA Fab Lab
    • Saturday, March 30, 2024, 9-11AM @ NOVA Fab Lab

    A free tour of the Fab Lab will be offered to all interested on the above dates from 11AM-12PM.

  • Join one of our free online workshops in the basics of 3D-modeling using Tinkercad. Participants will be introduced to the basic tools and menus of Autodesks’ free online CAD program.
    • Wednesday, March 13, 2024, 6:30PM-8:30PM via Zoom
    • Wednesday, March 27, 2024, 6:30PM-8:30PM via Zoom

Register Here

Educator/Classroom Informational Sessions via Zoom

Register for a 15 minute-long Design Challenge info session on any Wednesday from March 6 - March 27, 2024, at 3:30 or 4:30PM. Feel free to project us on a big screen to present to your class or group. Register Here.

Educator Reference Guide

Download our educator reference guide for various ways to implement the Design Challenge in your classroom.

Download Educator Reference Guide

Questions & Answers
Q: How do I submit my design?
A: You will submit your design digitally via our Entry Form at http://fablab.novastem.us/DesignChallenge

Q: Do I have to physically build my product?
A: No. In fact, we are not accepting physical objects. However, you are welcome to build a prototype as a visual representation of your design, but it is not a requirement. You will submit this information via our Entry Form at http://fablab.novastem.us/DesignChallenge

Q: Do I have to be a NOVA Community College student in order to participate?
A: No. Any student attending a middle school, high school, homeschool, or college or university student (excluding graduate school) within the continental US may participate.

Q: I am a homeschool student in middle school, can I participate?
A: Yes. Any middle school, high school, or college student attending a public, private, or homeschool can participate.

Q: Is there a size limitation for my solution?
A: No. Choose the size that best fits your solution to the problem.  The NOVA Fab Lab will fabricate the design of all Prize Winners including, if necessary, a scaled down version of the product.

Q:  The Entry Form requires two different types of references to justify the needs and ideal habitat for the animal my product supports.  What type of references are acceptable and how do I submit them?
A:  The Entry Form will contain a field for you to cite references. References supporting your research can be photo documentation of your animal in its environment, an interview with a pet owner, zoologist, veterinarian or other animal professionals or enthusiasts, website links to any article, or information from any online resource. References can be attached as a word document, hyperlinks, PDF files, images, or a link to video (do not upload actual video), or commonly used citation formats.

Q: What kinds of equipment/processes does the Fab Lab have available to fabricate winning design?
A: Capabilities include

  • CNC routing (4’x4’)
  • Full Woodshop
  • CNC metal mill
  • Laser cutting/engraving
  • UV flatbed printer
  • Soldering/electronics
  • Textile (sewing machines, sergers)
  • Vacuum Former
  • Additive Manufacturing (including color polyjet and filament printers with dissolvable supports)

Terms & Conditions

  • The Challenge is open to any student enrolled in a middle school, high school, homeschool, post-secondary within the USA.
  • For those under 18 years of age, parental consent is required at the time of Entry Form submission via the electronic entry form.
  • Participation is open to individuals, or teams with up to 3 total members.
  • The Challenge is not open to:
    •  employees of Northern Virginia Community College
    •  judges or any of their families
    • employees of the NOVA Fab Lab
    • Design Challenge sponsors.
  • Only 1 entry per person is permitted regardless of whether they enter as an
    individual or a team. If a participant enters one design as an individual, and a second
    as a team, the individual entry will be disqualified.
  • By submission of an Entry Form you:
  • Agree to be bound by the decisions of the judges.
  • Warrant that you are eligible to participate.
  • Warrant that the submission is your original work.
  • Warrant, to the best of your knowledge, your work is not, and has not been in
    production or otherwise previously published or exhibited.
  • Warrant neither the work nor its use infringes the intellectual property rights
    (whether a patent, utility model, functional design right, aesthetic design right, trademark, copyright, or any other intellectual property right of any other person.
  • Warrant participation shall not constitute employment, assignment or offer of employment, or assignment.
  • Agree participation does not entitle to compensation or reimbursement for any costs.  
  • Agree Northern Virginia Community College and all affiliates have the right to promote your entry.
  • Winners will be contacted by NOVA Fab Lab staff to get their contact information and any other information needed.
  • Winning Product will be chosen based on the Rules and Requirements.
  • Winning individuals or teams will be required to attend the Challenge Ceremony (at their own cost), located at the Fab lab, to collect their prize(s).
  • Winning individuals or teams agree to be photographed with their winning designs.
  • Winning teams agree that the prize allocations are the same amount regardless of whether it is an individual or team that wins an award. The winning team will determine amongst themselves how they share the prize; the prize will be awarded to the
    team, not to individual team members.
  • Winners agree to the following NOVA Fab Lab/NOVA Community College Graphics Release:

I hereby give NOVA Systemic the right to take, use, publish, display, broadcast, or print – in any media – photographs, slides, digital images, films, and audio or video recordings made in conjunction with the NOVA Systemic Fab Lab, to the full extent in which I am included. I understand that such sounds, images, and video may be used for instruction, promotion, advertising, and any other lawful purpose.

Our Sponsor
This Spring 2024 Design Challenge and related activities have been kindly sponsored by BAE Systems.