What can be printed with a 3D printer? Any solid object—sunglasses, a bracelet, and yes, even a whale skull.
Mammalogy students at CSULB will now have insights into the biology of the baleen whale family, the largest mammals in the world, thanks to the the new Gerald M. Kline Innovation Space, aka “I-Space,” where a whale skull model was recently conceived. The new 3D printing space was unveiled at the CSULB University Library on Thursday, Aug. 23.
To Dr. Ted Stankowich, a professor in the biology department at CSULB and director of the college’s mammal lab, this new whale skull model is a revelation.
“We have a collection of 10,000 specimens of mammals in our collection, which is really sizeable for this university,” Stankowich said. “And we pride ourselves on having a really broad range of [animal] families in the collection. However, we have very little materials [to study] from the baleen whale family...they are hard to get and impossible to store.”
Instead of figuring out how to obtain and store an actual 50-foot-long whale skull, Stankowich enlisted the help of Dr. Chris Beyer, professor of mechanical engineering at CSULB, who helped guide the development of the new I-Space.
At the ceremony unveiling the I-Space, Beyer explained how 3D printing fits into the historical landscape of technological innovation and how it is part of the future of manufacturing.
“We had the first industrial revolution, which was the introduction of the steam engine in the 18th century,” Beyer said to the audience at the I-Space unveiling. “You are now part of the latest industrial revolution, which includes 3D printing.”
Located on the bottom floor of the CSULB University Library, the I-Space houses a wide range of industrial-grade 3D printing equipment for plastic, composite, and metal parts, as well as a laser cutting system. The I-Space will supply 3D printing for all departments across the disciplines at CSULB, including biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, and art design.
A host of brightly-colored 3D printed models, including models of human organs, were on display outside of the I-Space during the ceremony as well.
“Students can use these models for multiple reasons,” said Jesse Roitenberg, national education manager of Stratasys, a 3D printing company supplying some of the machines used in the I-Space.
Roitenberg points to the model of the human heart. A 3D printed model based off of a digital scan of a real human heart can be a revelation as to where a pacemaker is inserted, for example. Students can also clearly see what malformations exist within hearts based on a model printed from a scan of an actual diseased heart. The idea is if the machine can print it, the model will show it.
3D printing is becoming revolutionary in many fields. In the United States Air Force, it is gradually becoming the way to replace aircraft parts.
“It’s very cutting edge,” Roitenberg said. “It’s beyond just iPhone covers. It’s building things that will save people’s lives. It’s art and design, it’s fixing planes. 3D printing is really cool and it’s getting people excited about the sciences again.”
Guests at the I-Space unveiling were amazed at the shiny 3D printing equipment, including CSULB President Jane Close Conoley.
“I’m absolutely excited and happy about this new Innovation Space because I think it will be a great accelerator of student creativity and faculty creativity,” Conoley said. “I also think it will give an edge to our students for employment because [3D printing] is the cutting edge in so many fields, not just in engineering.”
Donated by philanthropist Gerald M. Kline, the I-Space was brought to CSULB in large part to Roman Kochan, the dean of Library Services at the university.
“He’s been at the forefront of revisioning the role of the library on the college campus because the library is the heart of what we do,” Conoley said of Kochan. “How we access information has changed so much. [Kochan] has been ahead of the curve in keeping the library current, utilizing the space well, and still making the library really friendly to students.”