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Marvin Ridge High students, teacher build 3-D printer

Aaron Arthur, a junior at Marvin Ridge High, worked with fellow junior Gordon Holzberg, to build this 3-D printer. It's made by MakerBot Industries, has a balsa wood frame and colorful wires sticking out of one side. It cost about $900, funded through a donation.

Printing a class paper is a cinch, but how many high schoolers can print a doorknob?

Marvin Ridge High is the first Union County school to build and use a 3D printer. Gabriel Oprea’s IB physics class is a pioneer in the relatively new technology.

“In all the other labs, we’ve studied what other people have done,” junior Leah Helsel said. “Now, we’re studying something totally our own.”

The printer, from MakerBot Industries, has a balsa wood frame and colorful wires sticking out of one side. It cost about $900, funded through a donation.

“Students need good examples of what science can do for them,” Oprea said.

The 3D printer gives them hands-on experience in mechanics and gets them excited about science, he said. It also teaches them to problem solve when something doesn’t work properly.

The printer, dubbed “Cupcake” by the manufacturer, makes almost anything with dimensions up 4 inches wide and 5 inches tall — about the size of a cupcake.

Here’s how it works: Students use an open-source software program to find previously downloaded models on the computer. The models are free and available to anyone. They upload the models to the printer, which feeds long, thin strands of ABS plastic — the same kind used to make Legos — onto a heated platform. The platform heats to about 428 degrees Fahrenheit, melting the plastic and creating a 3D object. A small object takes about half an hour.

The whole class worked on the printer the day it arrived, but juniors Gordon Holzberg and Aaron Arthur worked closely with Oprea to finish assembly. At times frustrated, they dealt with technical problems and outdated firmware along the way. They estimate spending 50 and 70 hours on the printer, including many hours after school.

Since working on the printer, Arthur is more interested in majoring in computer and electric engineering. Other class labs are “not as technologically based,” junior Erich Kessel said, and working on the printer gives students a leg up in next year’s physics class.

“This is not something that stops here,” Oprea said.

The class can print parts for a second printer and add motors and metal pieces to make it work. “This printer will print another printer,” Oprea said.

Students find many models on Thingiverse.com. Users have printed a door stop, iPhone speaker stand, chess set, coffee tamper, bracelet, socket cover and money box. Gordon and Arthur printed a doorknob.

Oprea predicts seeing the technology in more homes in the future. “If you need a cup, you can make one,” he said. If the cup isn’t quite right, the printer can melt it down and reuse the plastic. Oprea plans to work on a 3D scanner, quadcopter and hexapod robot next.

Holzberg would like to see a 3D atom or miniature submarine. He was stoked to find a bathtub-size U-boat model online.

--This story is reprinted with permission from the Enquirer Journal.


Written by: Tiffany Jothen, The Enquirer Journal education reporter
Posted: Mar 17, 2011 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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