Led by chemistry Professor Lon Porter in partnership with students in the CIBE, the College’s 3D Printing and Fabrication Center is injecting some STEAM into STEM.
It was the highlight of last spring’s Alumni Faculty Symposium and many of the older men in the audience were leaning forward in their seats, waiting to see what Professor Lon Porter would come up with next.
He had just walked alumni, faculty, and students through a brief history of 3D printing and its potential for teaching and learning at Wabash. He had passed out pieces he’d practiced on—a set of gears, a model of a turbine, and an impressive bust in miniature
of Professor Wally Novak. He had demonstrated the instrument Professor Richard Dallinger had designed and his students had made for chemistry labs.
The College’s Ultimaker 3D printer was whirring at one end of the room and an alum was taking photos with his camera phone as Porter spoke about the “maker” movement and how student interest is driving 3D printing on campus.
“I think we’ve hit a ‘Sputnik moment’ with this generation of students,” Porter said. “3D printing, microprocessors, and materials are coming together in such a way that if you can think of it, you can make it. Students are going to be enthralled with this idea, and you can connect this technology with classes across the disciplines.”
He talked about the committee of professors and students from the arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences at Wabash who are already coming up with intriguing ways to use the technology for teaching in their courses.
And then, surprising even the symposium’s organizers, Porter revealed a red and white “Hovey Hand”—a prototype of a low-cost prosthetic he had assembled from more than 30 parts printed by the Ultimaker. The professor had been inspired by the e-Nable volunteer group, which seeks to match injured children with 3D printer owners to manufacture low-cost prosthetic hands and arms.
“We’re still really new to this effort, but I feel we can make an important contribution,” he said, concluding his presentation. “I hope that we can provide these devices to children in the local community and abroad, a way in which this technology can help us to ‘live humanely,’ as we say in our mission statement.”
Fast forward three months and 3D printing at Wabash is having a Sputnik moment of its own.
In May the College received a $22,000 grant from Independent Colleges of Indiana/Ball Brothers Venture Fund to establish a 3D Printing and Fabrication Center (3D-PFC) on campus. The grant will bring together the critical thinking, experimental design, modeling, and data analysis emphasis of STEM-based learning (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) with the creativity, innovative thinking, and effective communication of art and design to create a cross-disciplinary collaboration within the liberal arts. The holistic approach, creating STEAM from STEM and art, will explore opportunities to infuse this cooperation throughout campus.
And the CIBE is a big part of it all. CIBE will support collaborative projects for science and art students who will work with industry and manufacturing professionals to solve real-world prototype and manufacturing challenges for local businesses using the 3D-PFC.
The “Hovey Hand” remains central to the Center’s efforts.
“We are using public domain hand designs as templates and evolving them in our labs to yield new and creative designs,” Porter said in a news release announcing the grant. “We hope to partner with various local and global organizations to provide these devices to children. This service-learning opportunity uses community-based problems to help students engage with skills they have learned in new and humane ways.
“The ethical and humane application of new technologies is an important consideration in the education of a Wabash man.”