There is something enchanting about watching a 3-D printer in action, and it’s even more nthrallingifyou’rebehindthecontrols. Down- load a file from the internet or design one
yourself, press print and watch the image on your screen
begin to materialize point-by-point in plastic — it’s hard
not to crack a smile.
“For most people it starts as something that
impresses them because they’ve done it — it’s not the
thing they’ve made; it’s just that there is a thing when
there wasn’t one before,” says Margot Vigeant, associate
dean of engineering and a professor of chemical
engineering. “A lot of people will make something out
of a video game or movies: ‘Look, it’s Darth Vader!
I made him!’ ”
It’s a bit gimmicky, perhaps, but that feeling of
wonder and agency is nonetheless powerful, and it can
be a transformational experience, says Vigeant. It’s
one she and other leaders of the maker movement
burgeoning at Bucknell and nationally hope to capture
for all it’s worth, because putting the magic in your
hands demystifies the trick; it makes you the magician.
That feeling is one the engineers and artists on
campus, like Sam Pratt ’ 16, a mechanical engineering
major, already know well. Pratt has been building 3-D
printers since his senior year of high school and under-
stands the mechanical minutia of the technology as well
as anyone at Bucknell, but talk to him about that tech
and it doesn’t take long for him to mention “magic.”
“I had a part break on my printer, and I emailed
someone at the company and asked them for a file,” Pratt
says. “They emailed it to me, and I printed the replace-
ment part — like a 3-D fax machine. That’s like magic.”
To Vigeant, a better term is “self-efficacy. You go
from thinking this is something that’s not an option to,
‘I can.’ That’s inspirational.”
It’s a feeling that can benefit anyone, Vigeant says,
and it’s the idea driving the maker movement — a tech-
savvy extension of do-it-yourself culture supported
at Bucknell by six facilities branded MakerSpaces, the
7th Street Studio among them.
Renovated in 2015 and outfitted with four 3-D printers
(as well as three 3-D scanners, a laser cutter, a computer-
numerical-control mill and design software to make it
all go), the space provides training for any student, staff
member or professor to try new ways of designing and
“You get people interested in making things, then
they want to learn how to do it better,” says Professor
Nate Siegel, mechanical engineering, who manages the
studio with Art Professor Joe Meiser and 7th Street
Studio Coordinator Gretchen Heuges. “It allows people
to move from simple projects to more complex projects,
and that drives additional learning — as you get more
ambitious, you’ve got to learn more,” Siegel adds.
Since they’re meant to encourage experimentation,
there are few limits on what you can use the Maker-
Space’s printers to create. Custom cell-phone cases are
a popular first project, Siegel says. But many on campus
are putting the devices to educational use too.
For their senior design projects, students majoring
in biomedical engineering partner with local physicians
to identify novel treatment tools. These students have
increasingly used 3-D printing to create quick mockups,
says Professor Eric Kennedy, biomedical engineering.
“We can show the physicians pictures, and they
can say, ‘It should be about the size of a screwdriver.’ ”
Kennedy says. “But to actually print the part, hand it to
a doctor and say, ‘How does this feel? Do you want to
hold it a different way?’ That’s been really valuable.”
But despite its possibilities, 3-D printing has draw-
backs, he adds. “It’s new and novel, like the new app you
get on your phone that you want to use for everything.
The danger is becoming too reliant on it.”
Kennedy recalls several instances of senior design
project teams engineering and printing their own plastic,
less-refined versions of items that are otherwise readily
available. One team, for instance, needed a clamp for
its capstone project: an emergency tourniquet for
battlefield use. The students reverse engineered and
printed an Irwin Quick Grip clamp.
“If you’re trying to print a Quick Grip, why not just go
get a Quick Grip?” he asks. Kennedy sees that example
as a valuable lesson: get too used to a technology, and it
can influence the way you think, for better or worse.
Meiser, however, has a different take.
He has made art and sculpture with computer-aided
design software for the better part of a decade and
recently began experimenting with 3-D printing.
1) One of Bucknell’s many 3-D printers builds a model
of a human skull in plastic. 2) A Bucknell B, printed
in the 7th Street Studio, is dipped in a chemical bath
to set. 3) Professor Joe Meiser, art & art history,
manipulates a 3-D bust of Jemuel Stephenson ’ 17,
scanned in with an Xbox Kinect.