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NOVA Fab Lab

We Do STEM at the Fab Lab

The newly opened NOVA Fab Lab is located at NOVA Community College’s Manassas campus. The lab provides hands-on support to NOVA’s Engineering Technology degree and hands-on STEM opportunities for college students, staff, and community members. The Fab Lab Makerspace provides workshops, demonstrations, project collaborations with NOVA classes, tours, field trips, and special events to help enhance STEM learning and develop STEM skills. The lab provides a creative space to learn about a myriad of topics such as electronics and coding, how to operate fabrication equipment, use of design software, e-textiles/e-fashion, wood working, robotics, additive manufacturing (3D printing), and more.

Some of the equipment available include 3D printers, a 3D scanner, a UV printer, a plastic thermoforming center, a 54" vinyl printer/cutter, a large format CNC router (48" x 48"), a mini desktop CNC router, a CNC wire bender, computerized sewing machines, a full woodworking shop, as well as a computer aided design (CAD) computer lab.

 ** Due to COVID-19, the Fab Lab is only running virtual programming until conditions improve. Some of our virtual programming has offered hands-on approaches involving mailing out STEM kits and fabricating & mailing out participant’s custom designs. Some examples of our virtual programming include: Fabrication Summer Camps, STEMinars, Tours, and Educator Professional Learning.

NOVA Fab Lab Design Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of us to lock-in, leaving home dwellers to find new alternatives for entertainment, education, exercise, and play. Manufacturers of typical activities such as video games, building blocks, jigsaw puzzles and even paint-by-numbers quickly sold out as households across the world fended off boredom. In the absence of consumables, folks began to enlist their own creativity to invent new methods of family entertainment. DIY blogs and video channels dedicated to home remedies for fun, flooded social media, and new STEM products using found and recycled objects saw a rise in popularity.

With this as our back story, we are asking you to invent and design a product(s) for eventual fabrication (using 3D-printing and/or laser cutting) which transforms typical household items or materials into a toy or game.

Throughout this brief, we will use the term “Product” to describe your invention/design, and “Common Object” to describe the household items or recycled materials. The combination of the two will simply be called the “Game” or “Toy.”


Monday, Feb 15, 2021 - Competition begins 12:00 am

Thursday, April 15, 2021 - Final designs must be received by 11:59 pm

Friday, May 14, 2021 - Winners will be announced at 5:00 pm.

 grand prize DC

Enter your submission at fablab.novastem.us/DesignChallenge

  • Your Product parts must not exceed 12” in any dimension.
  • Your Product cannot be a found or pre-existing object and must be designed for eventual fabrication using 3D-Printing and/or Laser Cutting & Engraving.
  • Your Product can only be designed for fabrication from the supplied list of acceptable materials
    • Materials for Laser processing:
      • 1/8” Clear Cast Acrylic sheet 12” x 24”
      • 1/8” Colored Cast Acrylic 12” x 24” (available colors; black, white, red, blue, yellow)
      • 1/4” Baltic Birch Plywood 12 x 12”
      • .002” Flexible Clear Acrylic 12” x 12”
      • White Cardstock 12” x 18”
      • Black Cardstock 12” x 18”
    • Materials for 3D printing:
      • 75mm PLA filament (available colors; black, white, red, blue, yellow)
    • Your Product must be designed using an appropriate 3D digital design software capable of creating one of the following file types: STL, SKP, or OBJ

All entries must be submitted electronically at https://fablab.novastem.us/DesignChallenge and include the following:

  • A digital 3D design model of your product including your common object (in a STL, SKP, or OBJ file).
  • An online written description of your product (500 words max).
    • Explain what your product does.
    • Explain how your product interacts with the common object.
    • Explain why you think your product will be fun for the end user.
  • Additional files optional (example - assembly instructions, images, etc. Maximum of 3).

Judges from left to right: Naomi Clare Crellin, Afnan Ali, & Alex Baddock

Judging will be based on the below criteria:

  1. Innovation
  2. Functionality
  3. Feasibility
  4. Thoughtfulness
  5. Appearance

Meet Our Judges

Naomi Clare Crellin is the Founder and CEO at Storycraft Lab, an experiential engagement strategy agency, and Editor and Host of The Futures Forum, an innovation think tank for the experiential industry.   

Naomi’s career has seen her work across platforms and media to help make the challenging actionable, using her expertise in the intersection of engagement and strategic message to craft audience journeys that are moving and memorable. She has led experiential teams in creative development and delivery for clients such as the Smithsonian, Bloomberg, The King Center, the State Department, The World Bank, Microsoft and Intel. With a long history of teaching narrative exhibition design and design thinking, Naomi has a particular passion for the role of content, education and learning in meaningful audience engagement. As an artist, Naomi’s digital media work has been exhibited as far afield as the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin and the ICA Budapest. Naomi’s artistic lens results in a celebration of the process of creation, and she finds great joy in providing the frameworks for creativity and expression to occur – whether that is for her team, their clients, or their audiences. 

Naomi holds a Master’s Degree in Interior Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design, and a Bachelors in Political Science from the University of Sheffield in England.

Afnan Ali is a two-time world champion roboticist, and four-time recipient of the Design Award at the VEX Robotics World Championships. When not managing his local VEX robotic Team, or coordinating regional hackathon events, Afnan spends his days as a Software Engineer at Lockheed Martin.  

Afnan earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering from George Mason University, and lists Robotics and AI as his greatest passions. He has extensive CAD/CAM experience within the context of Digital Fabrication, and is known for his innovative approach to design. 

"Problem solving for me has always been about determining the root cause of a broad problem, and then looking at it from different perspectives to determine the best solution." I like to start my process by asking; "Does it need to be this way?"

Alex Baddock works with universities, technical schools, and private and public K-12 schools to integrate cutting edge technology into their classrooms. Alex is passionate about helping students uncover the possibilities of engineering, digital fabrication and traditional manufacturing technologies throughout their educational experience. He serves as Amtek Company’s sales lead in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware. Alex received a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Marketing from The University of Maryland College Park, and has extensive fabrication knowledge in all areas of Digital Fabrication.  

First Place Prize

  • 1 Ultimaker™ Original+ 3D printer
  • 1-year SolidWorks software subscription
  • Fabrication of final Product (includes virtual design and file support)

Second Place Prize

  • Fabrication of final Product (includes virtual design and file support) 

Third Place Prize

  • Fabrication of final Product (includes virtual design and file support)
  • Your common household items and materials should not be too specific. Ex. A mobile phone is acceptable, while an iPhone 11 is not OR a soda can is acceptable, while a 2-liter bottle of Coke Zero is not.
  • Make sure your Product is not redundant. Example: Sock Puppet Parts - Although this DIY toy does require common household objects, everything required to make a sock puppet already exists. Your product is simply providing an alternative to an already established DIY project.
  • Make sure your product is essential to the challenge. Example: Toobalink™ (link to https://www.toobalink.com)- this ingenious and simple product connects standard paper rolls in infinite ways, turning a common household object into a construction activity.
  • Your product does not have to be a single item, it can be an assembly of multiple fabricated parts IF each part can be fabricated according to the requirements described in the Design Requirements - However, the complexity of your product will not constitute any advantage regarding the competition.
  • The challenge is open to anyone enrolled in a middle school, high school, or post-secondary (college/university) educational institute within the continental USA.
  • For those under 18 years of age, parental consent is required at the time of project submission via the electronic entry form.
  • Participation is open to individuals, or teams with no more than 3 members.
  • The Challenge is not open to; any persons employed as a professional in 3D printing, employees of Northern Virginia Community College, judges or any of their families, and employees and families of the NOVA Annual 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.
  • 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 collect prize(s) at a chosen NOVA campus and agree to be photographed with their winning designs.
  • Winners agree to the following NOVA Fab Lab/NOVA Community College Graphics Release:
I hereby give 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 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.
For questions email Richard Sewell at rsewell@nvcc.edu (use the subject heading “2021 Design Challenge”)

Current Programs

See below for current program offerings at the lab:

Virtual Maker Club 

Have your kids take a break from the screen and tinker with some hands-on STEM activities. Over the course of four weeks a weekly project will be provided that will include activities such as: building a tiny robot, creating circuits, using a DIY conductive probe to design experiments, building a wind turbine to move objects, and completing a design challenge using items from around the house. Directions and printed extension activities will be provided so that participants can explore at their own pace. An optional live virtual session will be provided once a week to provide an overview, support, sharing, and assistance with extension activities. A materials kit will be mailed, but participants will need: a Phillips screwdriver, a fan, 100 pennies, tape, scissors, liquid glue, and recycling bin materials. Recommended for children in grades 4 – 8. Cost $72 ($60 for NOVA staff/faculty/students). Two session options beginning October 26th and November 24th. 

Register here: http://steminar.novastem.us/Register 

Laser Workshop: Design Thanksgiving Pie Toppers 

Design personalized pie toppers that will then be fabricated and mailed to you. You will learn how to design in Inkscape, a free graphics and drawing software, while learning how lasers can be used to cut and engrave. Ages 16 and older. Cost $20 ($16 for NOVA staff/faculty/students). Live virtual session on November 2nd from 7:00-9:00 pm. 

Register here: http://steminar.novastem.us/Register 

Makers by Design Challenge Series 

The goal of a Maker is to produce better products - but what defines a “better product?” What is a better product in the age of Digital Fabrication? Machines might have assimilated hard skills, but the soft skills necessary for innovation have yet to be adopted. This 4-part STEMinar and optional lab(s) addresses these concerns by identifying the soft skills required in Digital Fabrication. Topics will include: Design Thinking, brainstorming, user-empathy, rapid ideation, prototyping, and making as an iterative non-sequential process. The series will conclude with the presentation of a design challenge and competition, with the winning members’ product being fabricated in our own Fab-Lab. Open to current 9-12th graders and college students. Sessions run from 7:00 – 8:00 pm on Tuesday, November 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th . Registration is for all 4 sessions, while the Optional Labs have a separate registration. FREE. 

Register here: http://steminar.novastem.us/Register 

We offer hands-on learning experiences to K-12 schools (public, private, & homeschool groups) in a variety of activities. Many of our activities incorporate coding, robotics, science and math content, data collection, the engineering design process and fabrication technology. In addition to the selected field trip activity, all of our field trips include a tour of the Fab Lab, a safety training and an overview of local trending STEM careers related to NOVA’s STEM degree programs.

Contact the Fab Lab Coordinator, Lance Lacey, at llacey@nvcc.edu or via phone at 703.530.3504 to discuss specific STEM learning experiences for your students. You can submit the following form to request more information: Field Trip Request Form

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 Coordinator Lance Lacey at llacey@nvcc.edu, 703.530.3504, or submit an interest form.


We are currently accepting project submissions for ENV 122 and HRI 128. Submit your projects here.

You can also find helpful design resources here.

Fab Lab center

Being makers and designers at heart, the staff at NOVA’s Fab Lab wanted to do their part during this crisis by manufacturing DIY face shields for the citizens on the front lines. However, with our Lab closed and access to machinery limited we faced many hurdles. We knew our portable equipment would struggle to keep up with demand, so we took the initiative of designing two different versions that could be made simultaneously on different machines. 

  • Version 1 appropriates the excellent Budmen™ design which can be made on our portable 3D printers.
  • Version 2 is our own design created entirely from cast acrylic and cut by laser.

This design utilizes press-in clips from waste materials, eliminating the need for glue. By adopting and creating these two different designs we are able to significantly increase our production goals.

Both designs are completely open source and free to use. See our PPE website https://nvccppe.wixsite.com/fablab/steminar for design files, images, videos, and more information on making PPE Face Shields. 

Upcoming Teacher Professional Learning opportunities related to fabrication and makerspaces:

TinkerCAD: Learn how to design digital models suitable for 3D printing 
Learn how to use TinkerCAD, a free entry level CAD software, in your classroom or makerspace to complete a student project. You will design a custom car frame that will be 3D printed and then used to build a mini solar car. The custom car frame, solar car kit, and extension activities will be mailed to you after the session. Extension activities involve testing the car performance, calculating average speed of the car, collecting data, learning how solar panels work, and more. FREE. Registration and more info at http://teacherpd.novastem.us/Register

Inkscape: Create vector files ready for laser cutting 
Learn how to use Inkscape to create designs for laser cutting/engraving. Participants will use a free drawing and design software called Inkscape to design a keychain/backpack tag. This training is recommended for educator’s that have access to a laser engraver and can provide a similar experience to their students. Student and instructor guides will be included. FREE. Registration and more info at http://teacherpd.novastem.us/Register

Easel: Understand tool-pathing for CNC carving
Learn the basic technology on how CNC carving works while designing an ink stamp using a free, web-based software called Easel. This session is recommended for educator’s that have access to a Carvey® desktop CNC router and can provide a similar learning experience to their students. The session will model and emphasize tips and tricks for virtual instruction using this software. Time for pedagogical discussions and student/instructor guides will be provided. FREE. Registration and more info at http://teacherpd.novastem.us/Register

In the Woodshop: Questions & Answers
This session is participant focused and provides the opportunity to have your woodworking questions answered. Whether it is a technical, general, or seemingly simple question, feel free to ask and learn. Topic questions may include: technical troubleshooting, equipment, techniques and methods, safety, woodshop organization, inventory, etc. Participants will submit their most leading question at time of registration to help facilitate discussions in advance. Recommended for educators that have access to a woodshop or are looking to incorporate woodworking into their student activities. FREE. Registration and more info at http://teacherpd.novastem.us/Register

See NOVA SySTEMic’s Teacher PD page at https://www.nvcc.edu/systemic/teacherspd.html for learning opportunities on other topics!

Virtual Tour & Info Session: NOVA Fab Lab

Would you like to learn more about the NOVA Fab Lab? Then attend this virtual tour and live information session. You will have an opportunity to ask questions, see images and videos of lab activities, and receive an overview of Fab Lab programs. Open to the public and registration is required. Free. Tours available on February 25th, March 26th, April 29th, and May 21st.

Register here: http://steminar.novastem.us/Register

On Hold

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For questions email Lance Lacey at llacey@nvcc.edu.