This 3D ‘sci-fi technology’ is revolutionizing universities

Applications unheard-of

Speaking of dramatic, visiting professor of anthropology at Miami University, Jeb Card, is using 3D technology to create replicas of ancient artifacts, including two that were stolen from the department in June 2013.

Before the items were taken, Card scanned a 19th century pipe and a painted effigy vessel from the Greater Nicoya region of Costa Rica. The scans stored their digital information on his computer.

With the use of a new color 3D print at the B.E.S.T. Library, Card printed replicas of the objects with the same dimensions and colors. The printer puts down layers of gypsum powder and coats them with ink, creating a denser, more detailed replica than other 3D printers on campus that produce plastic replicas.

“This is obviously a significant thing for us, to revive a lost object through this technology,” Card said in a press release.

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According to the University, Card purchased 3D scanning equipment and a laptop computer with about $7,000 that was part of a larger Student Technology Fee grant.

To him, the coolest thing is being able to share the 3D files electronically.

“I can email a virtual form of an object to somebody,” he said in statement. “They can either examine it on a computer or they can print one out if they have a printer. That starts to become a big deal.”

Card expects to have 40 students using the scanner by the end of spring semester 2014 to produce replicas of various artifacts and even embedded 3D PDFs of scanned objects—read with Adobe software or printed—that may eventually become part of a virtual online museum he plans to build.

For example, Card was able to download an image that had been scanned by Cornell University staff of a clay Cuneiform tablet from Iraq, which features some of the oldest writing in the world.

A technology for everyone

Card isn’t the only professor interested in future, widely-accessible application of this technology.

Miljanic included a proposal involving 3D printing when he applied to the Cottrell Scholars program, creating a database of plans for 3D models geared to widely-taught advanced chemistry classes, which would allow faculty members anywhere to print the models at their own institutions.

“The cost has dropped over the last 10 years,” he said. “The barrier now is that many people are uncomfortable trying to prepare a 3D model design.”

The savings is not just financial. Frankino estimated that designing a wind tunnel like the one used in previous research could have taken a year and $60,000 to have manufactured elsewhere.

Making it via 3D printing took two weeks and cost $2,000.

“That’s pretty science fiction to me,” he said. “That’s amazing.”

(Editor’s note: Information from multiple press releases were used in this report)