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Minerva Week 22: 3D Printers and Firecrackers

March 9, 2015

I finally know how to use a 3D printer! And yet it’s a toss up for my favourite moment of the week between watching the 3D printer build my ‘print job’ and seeing the largest Chinese New Year’s Parade outside of China.IMG_3266

I’ll tell you about the 3D printing first. Instead of printing words on paper, it makes 3D objects. It does this by piping melted plastic (just like you would pipe icing to decorate cookies), letting the plastic harden, and then piping another layer on top of it. Slowly, it builds up an object by building these layers one on top of another.

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I learned how to use the 3D printer at Tech Shop, a makerspace (they have lots of neat equipment there, and all members pay a flat monthly fee to access it). Minerva swung a decent deal for a few of us students, so I will be a member until the end of April. The class I took was a motley crew! Well, maybe not motley but we were pretty diverse. Two kinds of architects, one origami enthusiast, one digital artist and another person who wanted to make a physical prototype for his startup. And me! My interest in 3D printing comes from my background in structural biology. Many times, I’ve looked at the 3D structures of proteins on computer screens and wished that I could hold them in my hands. My goal is to learn how to print a 3D structure of the protein I studied a few summers ago.

A figure from the paper we published about this protein.

What I printed at the end of the class was the kind little word below. YES. As in “YES you can do this! YES this is such a neat mixture of conceptual/computer manipulation and manual work/physical result!” I downloaded the 3D model of this object from a website called Thingiverse. People from all over the world post models of all sorts of things. This YES is mean to be worn as a necklace (it has a hole in the Y), and was created in support of the (failed) Scottish referendum. Someone I will probably never know allowed me to hold this word in my hands.

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After doing some more research on how to acquire materials (I’ll have to bring my own plastic to use with the printer) and making a reservation for my next ‘print job’ (you actually do press the print button to start things moving, which I thought was so cute!), I tried to head home. It was harder than I thought! Most of my routes home were blocked by throngs of people cheering for other people in elaborate costumes. It was the Chinese New Year’s Parade.

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My little photo doesn’t do it justice. There were lion dancers, dragons, brass bands and FIRECRACKERS! So much noise and smoke in the streets. Even later at night, when I was back in my room, I could hear the firecrackers being set off. Then, louder explosions drew me to my window. I saw fireworks coming from Chinatown. A beautiful way to end a weekend of discovery.

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