Integrating 3D Printing Into Academic Curricula

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Before the first commercial 3D printer was made available to consumers in 2009, 3D printing technology was largely reserved for high-end manufacturing applications and a handful of niche hobbyists. Since then, however, the industry has been a boon with multiple successful start-ups and multi-billion dollar investments made by international corporations.

Many academic institutions have been leaders in innovation in the field of 3D printing with many universities investing big money in 3D printing technology. Harvard, Cornell, UCONN, and Penn State are just a few of the institutions that have made waves with their 3D printing programs. The University of Iowa, University of Northern Idaho and Iowa State were all recently included in a Pentagon-funded $320 million digital manufacturing consortia that aim to connect university researchers with private industry partners.

As 3D printing technology becomes more accessible 3D printers are now available to more than just high-level research students. Many undergraduate libraries now have 3D printing labs that allow students to experiment with digital manufacturing. The pedagogical uses of 3D printers are boundless from engineering students developing prototype models to pre-med students printing 3D models of body parts for a more tactile learning experience. While there are many sites where you can download the STL files required for 3D printing models, verifying the accuracy and reliability of the models can be next to impossible.

Gale Interactive: Human Anatomy is an innovative digital learning tool that provides access to a growing library of over fifty STL files for printing everything from the human brain to the musculature of the human foot. The models in Gale Interactive: Human Anatomy were created in cooperation with technology partner VIVED, a leader in cyber-anatomy technology aimed to enrich student outcomes through interactive 3D content and simulations. By integrating this resource into the curriculum educators can create a visual and engaging learning experience for students, strengthening conceptual understanding of the most basic and difficult concepts. 3D printed models can also be used in conjunction with hundreds of intricately detailed interactive digital models within Gale Interactive: Human Anatomy.

3D printing technology is not only useful for classroom instruction, it is being used in the medical profession to solve real-world problems. Create Orthotics and Prosthetics piqued public interest when they created the first 3D printed medical grade prosthetic for a girl who lost her arm in 2010 during the devastating earthquake in Haiti. More recently, Create O&P is once again making waves in the 3D printing and medical fields announcing the launch of the world’s first fully integrated medical grade 3D printing system designed to create orthotic and prosthetic devices. With many prosthetics costing several thousand dollars, this new printing system could provide access to high-quality prosthetics to a whole range of amputees.

The applications of 3D printing do not end at prosthetics, some companies have gone a step further and begun ‘bio-printing,’ the process of generating layers-and-layers of cells to artificially construct living tissue. Companies like Organovo are printing living organ tissue for testing and aim to one-day print fully functional human organs.

3D printing is even catching the eyes of major international corporations. General Electric announced it would be spending $1.4 billion to acquire two European 3D printer companies. Over the next ten years, GE hopes to cut its manufacturing cost by $3 to $5 billion dollars using 3D printing technology.

As the applications of 3D printing expand into more fields, Gale Interactive: Human Anatomy provides educators the opportunity to incorporate state-of-the-art technology into their classroom instruction, preparing students to pursue their professional and academic aspirations with confidence.

To learn more about Gale Interactive: Human Anatomy visit:

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