3D Printing: The Sky Is the Limit

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In his widely praised Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, philosophy PhD and expert mechanic Matthew Crawford coins the term “virtualism” to express his concern about a trend in modern education, one that paints “a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy.”

Crawford thinks students also need “the experience of making and fixing things.”

The arrival of affordable 3D printers may go a long way toward addressing Crawford’s concerns. That’s especially important for students in engineering, applied sciences, and other disciplines in which ideas need to prove themselves against physical realities.

“With 3D printing, students are encouraged to merge their creative, visionary side with their practical, engineering side,” say Matt Horn, Emerging Technologies Lab Manger & Systems Administrator at SAS. “That’s important to me when I’m driving across a bridge or trying to relax as a plane starts its descent. It’s important to parents when they buy a car seat for their baby.”

“From understanding simple fractions in grammar school to building a robotic arm in a university lab,” students can benefit from 3D printers,” Horn adds. “Many people still see them as exotic toys, but they are much more than that. Like the microwave oven, I think we will soon see them in every home and every school.”

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The Hubble's solar panels rendered for 3D modeling

Most recently, Horn has created 3D models for the free astronomy iBook Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn, a collaboration between SAS and the Space Telescope Science Institute. “Our goal was to make a book that was accessible to ALL students—including those with visual impairments and other print disabilities—and expose them to critical STEM content,” Horn says.One of my tasks was to enable students to print a 3D model of the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits the earth and has helped astronomers calculate the age of the universe, the existence of dark energy, and much more. Having that model is helpful to all students, but for those with visual impairments, the tactile experience is crucial to understanding how the telescope functions. Just as some students read Braille with their fingers, so they get to ‘see’ the telescope with their hands.”

Horn is also preparing printable 3D files for the Tarantula Nebula and the James Webb Space Telescope.

Watching visually impaired students interact with the 3D models, seeing them suddenly understand the abstractions, has been, for Horn, “a kind of classroom soulcraft” and provided “the most rewarding moments of my career.”

Learn more about the free iBook and how to use it in the classroom.

 

 

 

 

 

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About Author

Tim McBride

Supervisor, Educational Multimedia Writing

Tim McBride has degrees from Rochester Institute of Technology and NC State University, where he taught English for several years. His first book of poetry, The Manageable Cold, was published recently by TriQuarterly Press at Northwestern University. He works as a writer and an editor on Curriculum Pathways. He lives in Cary, NC, with an American pit bull terrier named Charlie McCarthy and a Catahoula hog dog named Junk.

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