A few years ago, I was invited to talk about 3D printing at my son’s second-grade class. Used to teaching dedicated college-level engineering students, I promptly agreed. “Sounds great,” I said to my then-graduate student Evan Malone (now the owner of a 3D printing and manufacturing “gym” in Philadelphia). “How hard could this be?”
In the weeks leading up to the big day, I tested out potential 3D printing presentation ideas on my son at home. Idea after idea was firmly nixed. Would the kids like a presentation on 3D printing? No. How about some movies of printed toys? Or a class on using design software? All negative.
As they day drew nearer and no good ideas emerged, Evan and I felt an unexpected stirrings of stage fright. Finally, inspiration struck: how about we 3D print in playdough? Kids understand playdough, right?
With a viable game plan in mind, we designed a toy space shuttle whose body would be printed in red playdough, and the wings and tail in blue. The day of the demo finally came. We arrived at the classroom with Fab@home, a small open source 3D printer model we had developed in our research laboratory. Fab@home is about the size of a microwave oven, with clear plastic walls so people can watch the printing process in action. For this particular demo, Evan had set up the 3D printer with an extra-large print nozzle so the toy space shuttle would come out faster, in about three minutes or so—within the attention span of the young ...