3D printing creates new reality for students

By Richard H. Miller, Academic Outreach and Innovation

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University has built a global reputation for 3D printing: alumnus S. Scott Crump helped develop it, and WSU scientists are finding ways to create bones for people, parts for satellites and buildings from Mars dirt.

3D printing most commonly describes a process (much like education) in which materials are gradually applied, with each successive layer adding substance and depth. While interplanetary applications get the big headlines, the process also has many down-to-earth uses.

WSU professor of fine arts Hallie Meredith is using the 3D printer at WSU’s Technology Test Kitchen to replicate artwork for her students to sketch.

Students sketch re-created art objects in the Technology Test Kitchen. (Photos by Richard H. Miller)

“If you have no experience with actual art objects, it’s really important to be present with the piece and focus on it as you sketch it,” she said.

“It’s better to see it in 3D, definitely,” said Nicole Snyder, a social sciences major who was sketching the Double Head of Hermes in the Technology Test Kitchen. “It’s easier to understand what the artist is trying to portray.”

Pharmacy major Meshine Lee was drawing from a replica of the Pietà. Unlike looking at a photo, she said, “you can move around and see the transitions and angles of light.”

Lotus Norton-Wisla, of WSU’s Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, is using the Technology Test Kitchen’s 3D printer to copy cultural materials as part of the tribal stewardship cohort program.

“Our goal is to spark ideas of how 3D printing could be useful to indigenous communities,” she said.

Those ideas include creating replicas for museum visitors to handle or that can serve as surrogates for the originals, allowing museums to return those items to their communities, said Norton-Wisla, the center’s digital archivist.

Other possibilities will be explored during a visit this month by library, archives and museum professionals from six Native American communities.

WSU fine arts professor Pamela Lee predicts the technology will quickly spread across disciplines: “This is absolutely the future of creative construction for both art and architecture,” she said. “It is rife for collaboration with artists, architects and historians.”

WSU information technology specialist Nathanael Nunes said several entities on campus offer 3D printing. Faculty are welcome to contact him at nunes@wsu.edu or stop by the Technology Test Kitchen in Holland 150.

“We are looking for faculty to help explore uses of 3D printers in the classroom,” he said. “If any faculty have ideas, we’d love to hear from them.”