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The future is 3D...

1 November 2013

The future is 3D...

Smile-on News looks at the latest exhibition at the Science Museum, and yes it is dentally relevant…

For me, any excuse to spend a few hours at the Science Museum is a good excuse, so I was delighted when I was invited to the media preview of 3D: printing the future, the museum’s latest exhibition.

This exhibition explores the rapidly evolving field of 3D printing, the technology driving it and its impact on society.

3D printing has really come to the forefront of public thinking over the last year or so, with the furore surrounding the printing of a 3D gun that is undetectable in airport scanners. My first real look at 3D printing was an entrepreneurial friend of mine’s short-lived business idea of printing a 3D image of people’s faces in chocolate! In dentistry, 3D printing has a real potential benefit in the development of replacement teeth that are an anatomical fit for individual patients.

3D: printing the future covers a range of potential uses for the technology, from automotive parts and futuristic art to medical advancements including the replication of human organs. Broken down into four sections – Try It, Heal It Perfect It, Print It – the exhibition features more than 500 3D printed objects for visitors to look at.

Within these objects are case studies that highlight just what 3D printing technology is currently capable of and the promise for the future. Some of these highlights include:

Facial Reconstruction - Medical implant supplier Dominic Eggbeer shared this story: “I help to rebuild people’s faces after accident or injury.

“A motorcycle accident left this patient’s face crushed. Their head was scanned and I worked with surgeons and technicians to design a multi-part implant. Surgeons then used the implant to guide their reconstruction of the patient’s face.

“3D printing is the only way for me to make such complex implants. And I can print them fast – ideal for urgent trauma cases.”

Sensors for Satellites - Mechanical engineering professor Ryan Wicker said: “My team prints electric circuits into the surface of objects. We used metal inks to print a sensor network into a mini satellite being launched later in 2013.

“We are sending it into orbit to test if the technology works under the harsh conditions of space. Printing sensors directly into the satellite’s structure saves lots of room.

“I want to print electric circuits inside objects. In the future your electronic devices may not be made of multiple parts; they’ll probably be in one piece.”

New Organs – University of Liverpool medical researcher John Hunt has created an artificial 3D printed bladder. He said: “I research how we might 3D print human tissues and organs.

“I 3D printed this prototype bladder and blood vessel and covered them with animal cells that glow under UV light. I research how to print ‘inks’ that contain cells so in the future I can print complex organs.

“The average waiting time for a new liver is 142 days. If we can print organs, patients who need transplants wouldn’t have to wait for donors. And if we can print with their own cells their body would not reject it.”

The exhibition has been set up in the form of a wall in the Antenna Gallery of the Science Museum and has plenty of interactivity, including screens, video demonstrations of 3D technology in action and the possibility to handle some of the exhibits (this includes the teeth!). There are objects of all shapes and sizes – one of the largest being a 3D printed bicycle to one of the smallest being a replica of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek: The Original Series (my favourite object of the exhibition – what can I say, I’m a Trekkie!)

Another interesting feature of the exhibition is the miniature 3D figures of people which have been created from scans of visitors who attended a series of workshops with a 3D theme over the summer. Museum staff at first thought they may struggle to get enough scans to include, but in reality they were oversubscribed and visitors were even happy to queue for quite some time to be included!

3D: printing the future located in the Antenna Gallery of the Science Museum and will run until July 2014. It is a free exhibition. So, if you’re looking for something to do in London for a few hours, visit the Science Museum and stop by! If nothing else, the 3D printers in action will get your gadget sensors tingling…



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