November 5, 2014

Geoscience education, meet 3D printing

Posted by Laura Guertin

[Note that I won’t be providing a “What is 3D printing?” description here. Some great TED Talks related to 3D printing are available on the list of 7 TED Talks on the wonder of 3D printing.]


First time making a “big Heart” with her fingers – for Shea – who just got her first “Mech-En” Hand! You can follow her adventures on the blog:

I can’t recall where and when I first heard about 3D printing – and honestly, I never gave it a second thought. I just chalked it up to yet another new and emerging technology “toy” that people could play with, printing everything from an iPhone case to Mr. Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. It wasn’t until I attended the ScienceOnline Together conference in March of this year that I finally was able to see the opportunities and possibilities. I blogged about a keynote session on connected communities with 3D printers on my Journeys of Dr. G blog – the photo to the left opened my eyes and started me thinking what 3D printing can mean to individuals and educational communities.

Ready or not, 3D printers have arrived on college and university campuses. The University of Oklahoma has set up a technology playground in their campus bookstore for students to test out 3D printers (from EdTech, 2014), while the University of Maryland is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to purchase a 3D printer to generate fossils, maps and rocks. The articles at the end of this post by Rosen and Hasiuk do an excellent job laying out the possibilities and current uses with 3D printing, such as scanning and printing fossil specimens so that a paleontologist doesn’t have to worry about damage when students handle a fossil in lab. Smithsonian X 3D is an excellent place to start searching for scanned fossils, and keep in mind that 3D scanning and printing can help increase the scale of microfossils and smaller macrofossils (see my IAGD post on accessible geology at GeoEd Trek). By the way –  if you cannot 3D print your own fossils, how about viewing stereoscopic 3D images of type fossil specimens? See the collection at the JISC GB3D Type Fossils Online project.




The American Museum of Natural History has designed a program titled “Capturing Dinosaurs: Reconstructing Extinct Species Through Digital Fabrication.” to engage even younger audiences in the excitement of STEM with 3D printing. See this video to learn more.



Hewlett-Packard plans on making 3D printing an “everyday thing” (Hardy, 2014). And now that you have thought about the possibilities with 3D printing, think of what could happen with 4D printing!


And 3D printing is not limited to Planet Earth. In the upcoming weeks, NASA will be printing the first ever 3D printed object aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the 3D Print in Zero-G Technology Demonstration. Seems like the sky is not even a limit as to what can be done with this technological tool.



Additional sources for exploration

Hasiuk, F. (2014). Making things geological: 3-D printing in the geosciences. GSA Today, 24(8): 28-29. (Article online)

Horowitz, S.S., and Schultz, P.H. (2014). Printing Space: Using 3D Printing of Digital Terrain Models in Geosciences Education and Research. Journal of Geoscience Education: February 2014, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 138-145. (Abstract online)

Rosen, Julia. (2014, August 24). Changing the landscape: Geoscientists embrace 3D printing. EARTH: The Science Behind the Headlines, from AGI (Article online)

Science Friday, The ABCs of 3D (July 11, 2014)