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New era of printing

Sarah McCarthy | Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In the basement of the Galvin Life Sciences center, students and research professors are propelling Notre Dame into the new era of modern printing.

Two 3-Dimensional (3D) printers, called a Cubify and Maker-Bot Replicator, have recently been installed in the lab of Dr. W. Matthew Leevy, a research assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Evan Doney, a sophomore chemical and biomolecular engineering major and student of Dr. Leevy, explained the printers’ innovative processes.

“You can find hundreds of designs online, then download one that you want to print,” Doney said. “The [3D] printer then prints the design layer by layer until you have the full [3D] object.”

Doney said 3D printing allows users to print extremely customized objects and has three main benefits.

“First, you can print anything you can think of . . . things that are unbelievably complex and custom to what you want,” he said. “Second, you can have unlimited digital inventory.”

Doney said the digital inventory is stored on the computer and is what allows users to print their desired objects, he said.

“The final thing is it’s really quick,” Doney said. “I can have an idea in my head and have the object in my hand in a matter of hours.”

Depending on the object being printed, Doney said the actual process of printing can range anywhere from two to 12 hours.

Compared to normal printing, 3D printing allows users to give life to their designs, Doney said.

“In normal manufacturing, it is beautiful 3D data getting stuck on a 2D screen,” he said.

Doney said the 3D printers in Galvin are primarily used by faculty for research projects.

“Researchers in Galvin can use it to scan protein molecules,” Doney said. “[The replicas] can then show how a certain drug fits into that protein.”

Doney and his fellow classmates also use the printers for biological studies involving CT scans, PET scans and MRIs, he said.

“We are developing medical applications for the printers,” Doney said. “They can create replicas of heart valves, molecules, rats, rabbits, lungs, livers and cancer tumors. The eventual goal is to make an exact and complete copy of whatever we’re working on,” he said.

Eventually, Doney hopes 3D printing will be accessible to all Notre Dame students.

“We’re looking to expand our printer inventory to get it to the point where it’s open to anyone,” he said.