3D Printers Offer Academic Opportunities

By Dom Quaranta

Tam’s Engineering Club has nearly assembled a 3D printer and is just “working out some bugs,” according to junior Nathaniel Knopf. The parts of Tam’s printer were themselves printed using a 3D printer at the Intel Computer Clubhouse in San Rafael, which offers free resources and classes for middle and high school students.

The 3D printer has been commercially introduced by engineers and designers at various technology companies. It creates elegant shapes and figures at the speed of a regular printer.

When I first heard the news about these 3D printers, I remembered the art classes I had taken, specifically my seventh grade art class at Mill Valley Middle School. My teacher would frequently become frustrated, trying desperately to describe something that she wanted us to create, but having nothing to show. As simple as it may sound, having the ability to print an example or figure for a class would make both the students’ and teachers’ lives easier and make class time more efficient.

The usage of the printer could be extended to architectural design and science classrooms as well. For an architectural design class, a model of an ark, the classic structure in architecture, could be flawlessly printed at the touch of a button. In a science classroom, a double helix model could be printed in order to show all the base pairs.

Functional tools, even those with moving parts, can be printed. Companies that have introduced 3D printers are able to print functional screwdrivers, wrenches, scissors and bicycle frames. This means that a printed pair of scissors could slice the way they are intended, and a wrench could tighten the way a metal one would.

In the printing process, the figure is displayed on the screen within a graph, the information from the computer is read and the process is initiated. A laser shines through a layer of resin, the pieces are sliced and laid down one after another to create a solid object.

Although many uses of the 3D printer are still only conceptual, it is for that very reason that the technology is so innovative. It enables users to create an object just by animating it and then printing it, which increases the efficiency of the prototype process. Engineers can use it for tools, and students can use it for the arts, architecture and science. Making use of this technology is an opportunity that should be taken advantage of.