Educational Research Print
Written by DrHurst   
Friday, 20 February 2009 22:14

Makerbot Educational Research - Hurst Lab

Enhancing Student Outcomes in Chemistry Through the Use of Rapid Prototyping Technology


The Hurst Lab Makerbot

Few people would doubt the importance that molecular models play in enabling new students to fully visualize complex molecules in chemistry. The simple ability to rotate and pivot a three dimensional representation is critical to the "visual learning" method of pedagogy. Our groups has begun to investigate how rapid prototyping technology can be used to enhance students outcomes in chemistry-specific areas.

Stephanie Hurst is an inorganic chemist at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in her Introductory (CHM350) and Advanced (CHM450) inorganic chemistry lecture courses it has been her experience that the novel coordination geometries that occur in inorganic chemistry are not well represented in traditional model kits. The unusual geometries and high coordination numbers (how many bonds there are to a central atom) is a challenge for traditional model kits that are usually designed for general and organic chemistry.

Point groups are an important part of inorganic chemistry as these describe the geometric transformation a molecule may undergo and are intimately linked to the spectroscopic properties of the molecule. How can we identify unknown molecules in the laboratoy, or even on other planets or even in other galaxies? It is through the use of point groups and mathematical "Group Theory".

Our group purchased a Makerbot Three-Dimensional (3D) printer for the purpose of designing and building our own custom molecular model kits. By designing the virtual atom in a computer aided design (CAD) program we can then use the Makerbot to print out a new model atom with any geometry we wish. In addition geometric shapes can also be constructed to represent amino acids, nucelotides and many other molecules.

We are currently designing and printing small numbers of prototype models, and we hope to eventually purchase the next generation Makerbot fabricator, the "Thing-O-Matic". This second generation machine has greater resolution, is more user-friendly and comes equipped with an "automated build platform" that allows us to print continously, allowing large-scale manufacture of model pieces for the growing student population.

Other groups have used 3D printers to produce a wealth of educational resources for course areas as diverse as biochemistry, mechanical enginnering and the arts. In addition the online repository "Thingiverse" allows for the uploading, storage and modification of designs.

Finally, the Makerbot is a "socially engaging" machine for the non-scientist. The simplicity of the concept and its user friendliness is a wonderful starting point to engage the public regarding science, engineering and the future of US manufacturing. We recommend that people see for themselves the works produced on our Makerbot and other 3D printers.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 December 2010 19:33 )