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3D Printing Crosses Academic Boundaries at Universities

3D Printing at Universities

3D printing has historically been seen as a tool for engineers and designers to rapidly prototype. Now the technology is crossing academic boundaries at universities and being adopted by various disciplines.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on this trend.

Colleges and universities are finding more and more uses for 3-D-printing technology, which has grown in sophistication and fallen in price in recent years. Some proponents argue that nearly every discipline could benefit from the ability to easily create objects from customized designs. “We want this for humanities, for social sciences, for bio people, for law school, so what’s interesting about 3-D printing is that it touches on all these areas,” says Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering and of computing and information science at Cornell University, who is creating a 3-D-printing course for nonengineers.

What are some examples of students using 3D printing across disciplines? 

Art: “When an art student at the University of Washington wanted to bring her vision of a futuristic animal to life last semester, she didn’t draw, paint, or sculpt it. She printed it—in three dimensions—using a machine that rendered her design from powdered bone.”

Medical: “Consider the work of Brandon Bowman, 28, a former blacksmith who is now studying at Washington. He is working with a hand surgeon to see if the technology can print body parts. Years ago Mr. Bowman lost the tip of a finger in a metal-shop accident. A friend told him to leave the wound alone and let the nub of flesh grow back on its own. It did, and he has been interested in regenerative medicine ever since.”

Paleontology: ’Kenneth Lacovara, a biologist at Drexel University uses the campus lab to print copies of dinosaur fossils, which he lets his students handle. “I can only have so many undergraduates in my lab, but I can give thousands of students the experience of what it’s like to hold a dinosaur bone and see the richness of detail contained in an ancient fossil,” says the associate professor. His students can’t go on the actual digs, but the printer has helped him replicate the experience.’

How far can 3D printing go?

University of Washington mechanical engineering professor Mark Ganter thinks that 3D printing will continue to proliferate.

“With 3-D printers, they’re either going to get to the ubiquity of Kinko’s, or lots of people are going to have them in their house,” he says.

Mr. Ganter sees 3D printing as a way to hook younger students on engineering fields. This year his class printed 8,000 edible cookies for an engineering open house for visiting junior-high and high-school students. They were more excited by the printed cookies than by anything else, he says.

The Washington professor’s students have also used the technology to print a device for NASA that, when sent into outer space, would store fuel in zero gravity. If institutions can develop early interest in engineering, and maintain sufficient access for kids to nurture this interest, he says, “soon we are going to try to figure out how to print on the moon.”


Read the full article at Chronicle of Higher Education.

Students 3D Printing photo by cogdogblog used under Creative Commons license.