6 departments ripe for 3D learning

History and Anthropology

The ability to physically connect with cultures and traditions of times past is one of the biggest advantages educators can provide students studying history and anthropology. While medical students are using 3D printing to diagnose medical ailments and inform health procedures of the future, 3D printing is also being used to revitalize ancient artifacts and bring history to life.

Imagine studying an ancient Greek war and 3D printing an accurate replica of a Greek soldier’s helmet for students to study. Whether it’s using 3D printing to analyze and restore skull deformation from priests found in an Incan temple or scanning artifacts (like a 3000 year old mummy) to provide exact 3D printed replicas for research and study, 3D printing connects students with precise copies of artifacts that would otherwise be “unattainable” to access due to their rarity, delicate nature or price.

Fine Art

Today’s students have the potential to hone their craft by studying the artistic form of master artists using 3D printing. Replicating a full-color 3D model of any fine art object can parallel details not visible from a 2D textbook, such as the texture of a sculpture. Not only can 3D printing convey far more information and meaning than a 2D image, it also exposes students to next generation processes of fine art restoration and conservation.

3D printing can also enable students to combine their creativity with technology to realize their own unique vision. Traditionally, fine art educational departments have been slow to realize possible applications for 3D printing. However, Keith Brown, a professor at The Manchester School of Art, is pushing new boundaries in sculpture by adopting 3D printing to explore design beyond the confines of handcrafting and CAD software to give designs new meaning. The end result helps him articulate geometry and form in a way that transcends physical form, giving students the ability to produce meaningful works of art and sculpture that can’t be produced in any other way.


The Geological Society of America names geoscientists as some of most prolific producers of three-dimensional data. They use the power of computers to make accurate and speedy calculations on 3D data sets, which is impossible for humans to match. Exposing students to full color three dimensional printing allows them to transform their calculations into accurate, realistic and intricate representations of terrain, cities and even subsurface 3D maps in a short time.

Developing realistic, full-color models of landscape and terrain isn’t just an engaging lesson in geography. It is also being used in the field. One such volcanologist, Ian Saginor, is using photorealistic 3D models that illustrate terrain, topography, man-made structures and more in order to track and predict outcomes of volcanic eruption. In collaboration with colleagues at Oregon State College, Saginor is comparing and quantifying the effectiveness a 2D map, a 3D digital image and a full-color 3D printed model have on people’s understanding and perceptions of volcanic hazards. For example, you can 3D print lava and ash flow in valleys to better convey how they might impact a proposed resort or residential development.

Thus far, Saginor has created 3D printed topographical models of Poás, a very active volcano near the Costa Rican capital of San José, as well as volcanoes Turrialba and Irazu, also located in Costa Rica.


Just as tangibility is helpful in providing perspective for architecture, the same can be said for math. While most mathematical teachings rest on 2D visuals, such as drawings on a chalkboard, it can be hard for visual learners to conceptualize the images. For example, the Pythagorean Theorem (for a right triangle, A2 + B2 = C2) is universally taught around the world but can be hard to conceptualize. However, if you can show students a 3D printed square and its parts to show that there is one square within another square, and when you put the pieces (representing the A2 and B2) together they make up the sum of the bigger square (C2) it’s easy to see how the theorem works.

With visually impaired students comes another set of obstacles, as shading in fractions of a circle on a chalkboard won’t explain how 1/6 is smaller than 1/3, despite 6 being bigger than 3. However, fractions can be more easily understood through 3D printing, as it’s clear that 1/6 smaller than 1/3 when it’s held in your hand.

(Next page: 3 questions to ask about the right printer)

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