Imaging the future: Students excited about Middle Park High’s new 3D printers
Two relatively small machines sit atop a work counter in Middle Park High School.
They are not much bigger than a microwave and as they operate the machines make a sound not unlike an old dial-up Internet connection. Each machine has an arm that moves suddenly and precisely in sweeping, circling and jerking motions dispensing a small stream of liquid plastic resin. In a few short hours each machine will slowly form an object where once there was only empty space.
The machines are known as 3D printers, and while the technology behind them was developed in the 1980s, the printers have only recently begun to be marketed to the general public.
Using a cornstarch-based biodegradable plastic resin, the printers are able to slowly, layer-by-layer, form solid objects. The capabilities and what 3D printers can produce are almost endless; small models, kitchen tools, prosthetic limbs and even guns can and have been made using 3D printers. Blueprints for objects are available online and can be downloaded and programed into a 3D printer, which allows the printer to then form the object out of its plastic resin.
Middle Park High recently purchased two 3D printers that they received on Thursday, April 16. The printers were purchased using funds from the Perkins Grant, which MPHS receives annually from the state. The printers, which are made by Printrbot, cost $750 each.
They use simple metals and a heated metal base for the resin to be dispensed onto. The heated bed helps reduce distortions in the printing process that can occur as the plastic resin cools.
Several MPHS students have taken the lead on working with the 3D printers, something they were already passionate about before the school purchased the machines.
“I’ve had a big interest in it for a long time,” said Sophomore Jensen Hill. “When the school got these it was kind of like a dream come true.”
Hill and fellow Gifted and Talented students Elliot Shaw and Jake Kacik were busy Thursday during lunch working with the new contraptions.
“We are just trying to figure out what it runs best at right now,” said Jake Kacik as he and his fellow students transitioned rapidly back and forth from tinkering with the printer to making adjustments on the computer operating the machine.
Echo Zoyiopoulos, teacher at MPHS, is helping oversee the students’ work on the 3D printers along with East Grand School District Computer Technician Kevin Mitchell. Zoyiopoulos explained that the students have really taken charge of the project from the beginning, including taking the printers out of their boxes and setting them up.
The printers operate using software the students downloaded online. So far during their first week working with the printers they have printed four different objects. Their fifth creation was slowly being formed Thursday afternoon.
Among their small translucent creations were a rhino head and an “impossible triangle,” an M.C. Escher-like optical illusion. So far the students have only made small and relatively simple objects as they work to familiarize themselves with the technology.
“As of right now our goal is just to get these things working and figure out how they operate,” said Hill. “Our goal eventually is to be able to teach other students how to use them. Hopefully we can incorporate them with other classes to use it for different projects.”
Elliot Shaw highlighted one potential use.
“Right now I’m taking a CAD (computer aided drafting) class. We are making toy trains. We could use this to actually print out the things we develop in the CAD class.”
As of right now the students are still familiarizing themselves with the machines but will soon be able to use them to their full capacity. When they do, the applications for the technology are almost endless.
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