Man, I love free education. I don’t know when it stopped being free, but it’s really exciting to see it become free again because learning is something that animals just do. It’s what life is! Even when young tiger cubs are playing a hearty game of rough and tumble, they’re preparing for a gruelling life of hunting as adults. Every moment is inherently a new one, meaning every experience is incorporated into the brain to prepare the organism for future experiences. So, to make a gross profit off of such a natural part of existence is really such a shame.
While I don’t know them, I think that the editors of Low-cost 3D Printing for Science, Education and Sustainable Development probably agree with me. Curated by Enrique Canessa, Carlo Fonda, and Marco Zennaro of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), this collection of essays and guides was part of the ICTP’s Science Dissemination Unit’s First International Workshop on “Low-cost 3D Printing for Science, Education & Sustainable Development” in Trieste, Italy this past year. The book’s intent, as you could probably guess, is to disseminate information on the possibilities of affordable 3D printing for science, education, and sustainable development. And, as per the title, the book is completely free and available here.
I still haven’t been able to read the whole thing, but I’ve read a few bits here and there and, from what I can tell, it goes a long way to achieving its goals by presenting clear, easy to understand, information about 3D printing as it applies to the common good. The first two sections provide a background on 3D printing, plus, the variety of low-cost printers on the market and even how to use them. Included in the second section is an outline of the different modelling programs there are and their different features. In this way, the book is almost an Idiot’s Guide to 3D Printing, except it’s free and it never calls you an idiot once.
In addition to giving the uninitiated a good overview of the tech and how to use it, the authors of this collection cover a number of topics on how the technology has been applied, including Gregor Lu Tolf’s case studies of the use of 3DP in 8th and 9th grade classrooms, in which students use Tinkercad and RepRaps to produce scale models of their home towns.[nggallery id=83]
The section on the use of 3D printing in science contains essays on fabricating scale models of heavy ion collisions and really colourful and beautiful CAD files of elaborate geometric shapes for the demonstration of mathematical principles. The last section of the book is devoted to work like the Perpetual Plastic Project, a Dutch endeavor to turn people’s plastic waste into 3D-printed goodness.
The book was born from the ICTP’s new 3D Printing Lab, which, according to one of the book’s editors, Enrique Canessa, was established “to promote, assist and train scientists on the use of this new, affordable technology… ICTP’s innovative lab is designed to be a friendly, modern place open to creativity. It is devoted to explain and show what low-cost 3D printers can do for non-experts, in the fields of science, education and sustainable development. Scientists need to be aware of which 3D printers exist and which of these suits their needs.” With the combined efforts and ideas of the lab and free e-book, perhaps the physicist’s predictions of “bigger printers that could produce anything from water pumps to houses in the context of sustainable development” will come to fruition. That way, 3D printers will not only inspire scientists in their studies and educators in their classrooms, but bring much needed hardware, that might otherwise be costly to ship overseas, to developing countries so that those in need can print something like a water filtration system locally — and confidently.