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3-D Printer Proving Ground
July 1, 2010

Kids in the classroom are learning how technology works by fabricating 3-D copies of their favorite things.

Cornell University’s Computational Synthesis Lab, headed by Hod Lipson, Cornell associate professor of engineering, has been awarded a share of a Mac-Arthur “Reimagining Learning” Competition grant to bring the three-dimensional printers to public elementary school classrooms across the country.

The goal: Motivate and in-spire young children to feel comfortable with engineering.

Prof. Lipson’s lab makes three-dimensional printers compatible with an endless array of materials, from Play-Doh, cookie dough and chocolate to polymers and metals, which allows a child to make 3D objects right on their desktop. These printers operate by reading an electronic blueprint and then a nozzle, filled with appropriate materials, builds a replica.

Prof. Lipson says, “Ultimately what we really want is to have a personal fabricator in every classroom, just like there is a personal computer in every classroom.”

The grant, one of a handful selected from among hundreds of applicants worldwide, was awarded to Glen Bull, University of Virginia professor of instructional technology. Prof. Bull will spearhead the Fab@School effort to create curriculum and data collection around digital fabricators for classrooms in Virginia. Prof. Lipson is also part of that effort.

The MacArthur grant was $185,000. The Digital Media and Learning Competition is funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to the University of California Humanities Research Institute and Duke University and is administered by the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC), a virtual network of learning institutions.

The grant will enable the Fab@Home project team, headed by Cornell doctoral student Jeffrey Lipton, to design and build five additional 3D printers appropriate for use in elementary school classrooms.

Anyone can download the open-source plans to build the printers. The latest version can be built with about $1,600 worth of off-the-shelf parts.

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