Welcome to Garage Physics!

Where Anything You Imagine...

By Hanwook Chung Photos by Olivia Fritz Print Design by Jason Wan

December 7th, 1903, was one of the most historically important days of human evolution. The first ever engine-powered stable airplane flew across the sky, setting the course of unlimited potential to aerospace industries of the future. Many might think that some great scientist, engineer or academic must have made this achievement, but this airplane was actually built by two country brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, the Wright Brothers. They had neither a higher education degree nor many connections to aerospace professions, but they did have something special: a space where they could be imaginative and ambitious with no limitations. Arguably, one of the greatest inventions ever happened in their house garage.

This conveyor track from Garage Physics is an example of a unique item which allows students to be creative

For the most part, a garage is a place where people merely park their cars or store their unused items. However, it can also be a workshop where individuals explore their creativity and come closer to their goals. Despite its seemingly positive features, a garage can still be a lonely workplace where it is not very easy to get resources and assistance. At UW-Madison, there is a special version full of free resources and assistance from both inside and outside of the campus - Garage Physics.

Arguably, one of the greatest inventions ever happened in their house garage.

Garage Physics is student-oriented open laboratory space for literally anyone who is interested doing his or her own projects. Started in February 2013, it has not been too long since it first began, but already over 20 students are participating and about 12 projects are currently active. The physics department mainly sponsors it, but it is not exclusively about physics. Students from a variety of majors and ages groups are working together to achieve their goals.

Duncan Carlsmith, a professor of physics, created Garage Physics along with Brett Unks, Laboratory Instructional Manager in the department of physics. Professor Carlsmith thinks this kind of open work space is very important because, “a consumer now can get their hands on technology, both electronics, motors, 3D printers, laser cutters and cheap ways to do fabrication to be inventive. There is a whole maker movement involved in doing things, which is very exciting.” He concludes, “So, this is intended to provide fabrication lab type of space for students to be inventive.”

The open laboratory type of workspace was not unheard of when Garage Physics was first started. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell have what is called a ‘Fabrication Lab’ where anyone can come to get familiar with machinery that is difficult to normally encounter. Even the engineering department at UW-Madison has many project-oriented programs such as the Microgravity team, Hybrid Motor team, Wisconsin Space Grant Rocket Competition, etc. However, what makes Garage Physics unique is that it is truly an inter-multidisciplinary workspace that is not bounded by any particular specialty.

Of the three 3-D printers Garage Physics owns, two are hand-built, allowing students to understand the mechanisms behind the machine

Here are examples of a few projects that are currently in action at Garage Physics:

3D Food Printing: Initiated by a freshman engineering mechanics student, this project aims to build a personal 3D food printer that can print food pastes in any shape possible.

Quad-copter: This project is intended to build a personal quad-copter that can carry a payload of up to 20 lbs.

Homemade GPS Receiver: The goal of this project is to build a highly accurate GPS receiver from scratch and possibly use it to modify many other applications.

Buddha Board: The goal of this project is to develop sustainable alternatives to whiteboards that use a water-based marking system that erases through evaporation.


These are all seemingly hard and complicated projects, but students started them all. Garage Physics is currently looking for more ambitious students and would welcome anyone stepping into the home of Garage Physics, Room B651 of Sterling Hall. Professor Duncan encourages anyone to “come and have fun!”

If you want to know more about Garage Physics and its projects, visit: https://wiki.physics.wisc.edu//garage