July 14, 2020
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Printing in three dimensions can produce items from wrenches to jewelry to models of ancient masterpieces. And now, thanks to a group of faculty including Professor of Art History Sarah Blick, 3-D printing is expected to make an impact in classrooms across the curriculum.
“We're at the cusp of a period where a possibly transformative technology is being popularized and made available for the everyday user,” Blick said.
Blick and Associate Professor of Neuroscience Andrew Niemiec plan to demonstrate and discuss their experiences with 3-D printing in a lecture on Thursday, Sept. 12, at 11:10 a.m. in the Gund Gallery (Room 101). Greg Culley ’14 will assist with the presentation. While working in the Visual Resources Center over the summer, Culley helped explore the printer’s capabilities and will help others learn how to work the 3-D printer this year.
Most 3-D printed objects are made of plastic ink filaments that are fed into the printer, but other materials, including gold and titanium, are available to print objects of better quality. Manufacturers have used 3-D printing to make product prototypes for decades. Now, 3-D printing can make almost anything, from rocket engine parts tested by NASA to chocolate creations designed by dessert chefs. Medical researchers can print everything from prosthetic limbs to skins grafts for burn victims to a functioning ear. For the individual who doesn’t have access to NASA laboratories, 3-D printing as a tool for hobbyists is also on the rise. Newer and more expansive innovations in 3-D printing arrive on the web almost daily, from software sites such as Blender, Netfabb, and SketchUp, Google’s foray into the world of 3-D design.
The possibilities of 3-D printing in the arts caught Blick’s attention when she heard about the work of California-based artist Cosmo Wenman, who used a 3-D printer to create life-sized models of ancient Greek sculptures.
Last school year, Blick, along with Niemiec, Professor of Mathematics Judy Holdener, and Professor of Physics Tim Sullivan, won a Kenyon Essentials grant from the Center for Innovative Pedagogy to pursue the possibilities of 3-D printing, especially as an interdisciplinary teaching tool. Over the summer, the group tinkered with the technology trying to understand it and where it could have a place in the Kenyon classroom.
Kenyon has two 3-D printers, one purchased by the Department of Art History in the Gund Gallery, and one that the sciences division bought last summer. So far, the items printed range from polyhedrons and miniature Gothic cathedrals to a series of wooly sheep, which Blick said were made to test the parameters of the printers. Blick hopes to someday assign 3- printing projects to her students, but admitted that it’s hard to predict where technology will lead.
“It's difficult to predict exactly how professors and students will use this technology,” Blick said. “How computers are used now is worlds away from the predictions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It turned out to be much different and much more exciting than anyone could have guessed.”
By Nina Zimmerman ’14