Tuesday, April 8, 2014

3D Printing - Creativity Meets Practicality

Unless you have been at the South Pole for the past couple of years, you have probably heard of 3D printing. Known as additive printing for many years, it has finally come into its own with the development of materials that can be extruded (squeezed out like tooth paste), sintered (heated), or spun (like cotton candy) from a heated nozzle. I'll stick to non-technical terms here. 
(You can click on the links for the science and engineering details.) There are nearly as many ideas for 3D printable objects as there are stars in the night sky. 

Well, okay, maybe not the stars over Montana, but definitely the number of stars over Los Angeles, Houston, or New York. 


Clever folks have 3D printed a happy couple for their wedding cake topper, printed a cast that is more dense where the break is (while allowing the rest of the casted area to breathe), printed high couture clothing for the big city catwalks, and even 3D printed food and furniture

If this is not the start of something big, I don't know what is! 

How does an advanced technology that can print so many different designs and meet such different needs work? I'll admit, until I attended the 3D Printer World Expo in Los Angeles in January of 2014, I was mystified as well. Is it like the Star Trek replicators? No, but sort of.  The products of 3D printing are dependent on the starting materials and are shaped by computer instructions.

Companies like Pixologic makers of an application called Z Brush offer CAD (computer assisted design) tutorials that allow the user to create an object. The computer object is converted into a STL file format. From this an object can be printed in plastic, metal, sugar, dough, etc. The specific material is based on the application and/or use. Cool! So unless you want a pizza made of wood for the coffee table, you would choose dough to print. (Of course food printers are not the same as industrial printers. You wouldn't want metal flecks as a topping.)

I can hardly wait to learn 3D printing software and try my hand at creating spare parts for my 20 year old Krups coffeemaker. Go science!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Exoplanets: The Next Frontier?

Last night I watched the new science program Cosmos (a reboot of the popular show with Carl Sagan from 20 years ago). Now hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson, Ph.D., this Cosmos episode centered around planetary paths and how early scientists figured out the effects of gravity on planetary motion including Haley's Comet.

The mathematics and conclusions involved were amazing given the medieval times in scientific history and the squabbling astronomers involved.

Fast forward to today and we have a fantastic resource available for studying exoplanets and their details. The Exoplanet Data Explorer is an interactive table and plotter for exploring and displaying data from the Exoplanet Orbit Database. The Exoplanet Orbit Database is a compilation of quality, spectroscopic orbital parameters of exoplanets orbiting normal stars from the peer-reviewed literature, and updates the Catalog of nearby exoplanets. Right now there are 5,195 planets recorded in the data base. Check it out and let me know your favorite planets! Go science!

Friday, March 14, 2014

3D Printing for Cancer Treatment

Some people think 3D printing is just for gadgets like cute pencil toppers or paper weights. 

I see 3D printing in a much brighter light. In fact, medicine is one of the most important 3D printing application areas. Not just for printing artificial skin or high tech casts for accident victims, but 3D printing has been used in cancer therapy to deliver radiation treatment where it is needed.

Doctors at the Berkeley Lab for Automation Science and Engineering led by Professor Ken Goldberg and Professor Pieter Abbeel have a new method that improves and personalizes brachytherapy.

Each year, over 500,000 cancer patients globally undergo brachytherapy, (i.e., needles/implants are temporarily put into the body to guide small radioactive sources directly to a tumor. Brachytherapy is commonly used for treatment of the prostate, pelvis, breast, liver, brain, nasal cavity, throat and tongue cancers.

The 3D medical concept uses the benefits of 3D printing by using "steerable needle motion" that precisely threads radioactive sources through printed channels to disease areas. Get more details at 3D Printer World

3D printing is opening up a whole new world of medical applications. I can hardly wait to see what is coming next. 

For the latest 3D printing news and designs, check out my 3D Maker Designs & News Pinterest board. Go science!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Weather Predictions from Siberia

Most of us have heard that big weather patterns such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the tropics play a seasonal role in local weather. Knowing about changes in tropical sea surface temperatures and snow cover at higher latitudes are important to many industries (e.g., agriculture and water management). It's even thought that $3 trillion in the U.S. economy is linked to weather conditions.

So when researchers at Atmospheric Environmental Research (AER) and MIT started looking past El Nino to the relationship between Siberian snow cover in October and Northern Hemisphere climate variability in the winter people took notice. 

AER scientist Judah Cohen, PhD developed a fairly accurate forecast model for major industrialized cities based upon October Siberian snow cover, sea level pressure anomalies, and predicted El Nino/Southern Oscillation anomalies. For the first time, sea ice changes in September/October and circulation in the North Pacific, were applied to the experimental winter forecast. 

Since it's currently snowing in my area, I can attest to the model working. Check it for yourself at this National Science Foundation page. Go science!