NEW YORK—The Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo at the Javits Center here from April 2 to 4 offered a reminder that 3D printing is intended to change the world.
On display were 3D printers for every type of user, budget and intention. Printed items ranged from a bicycle to a drum kit, a small city made of sandstone, a dragon, the heels of shoes (athletic to 4-inch heels), jewelry, countless trinkets (bunnies, robots, a 5-inch replica of Brazil’s “Cristo Redentor”) and a super-hero suit.
Try as I did, I couldn’t find a baker or confectionist offering printed edibles, though I was happy to receive a small, light clip designed to keep my earbuds from tangling in my purse. It uses a tiny safety pin as a hinge and does the job perfectly.
The clip was created by Steve Kurti, the chief executive maker at Table Top Inventing, who during his session, “Educating Makers: The First Step to Revolutionary Change,” highlighted what’s arguably the most exciting and world-changing thing about 3D printing: It can change the way the next generation learns, thinks and approaches the world.
Kurti opened his talk with a question: What do 3D printing, the Mars Rover and vegan strawberry shortcake have in common?
Answer: None of these things sprang from someone’s mind fully formed. They involved multistep processes that people needed to think through.
“Creamy icing without dairy products? You need to think that through,” said Kurti. “It takes experimentation.”
And in nearly every instance, the first version is never a winner. The earbuds clip he gave out? “Version seven.”
Kurti gives talks to educators—the most effective way to reach lots of teenagers—about the need for young people to ask deeper questions.
Surface questions lead to deeper questions, which lead to core issues and then the central issue, “that thing at the center that if you take care of it, the problem goes away,” said Kurti.
Isaac Newton asked a question (Why did the apple fall from the tree?); later, Albert Einstein asked a deeper question (What is it that makes two things with mass attract?) that got closer to the core issue.
“We believe you can inspire deeper questions through the maker process,” said Kurti. “Maker education is a hands-on philosophy of learning, in which physically building solutions leads to deeper thinking.”
Gabrielle Rangel, associate CTO of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said during his session, “Inspiring the Next Generation of Space Explorers by Using Augmented Reality, 3D Printing and 3D Scanning,” that the “next generation of space explorers are kids that grew up playing video games. We’re demonstrating how today’s toys can become tomorrow’s tools.”
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JPL is on a mission to get more kids interested in space. It has started making one-minute videos that simplify (“simplify, not dumb down”) concepts, hoping to turn on some kids to the ideas, and it has summer internships for high school kids.
Rangel told the story of one intern, a 16-year-old girl, who used one of JPL’s MakerBot desktop printers to “print a to-scale model of the asteroid VESPA.”
“There’s a mentality that’s starting to shift,” he said. “She understands that she’s not bound by the current version” of something. (The same intern also used a 3D printer to start a side business selling iPhone cases she designed and printed.)
In a program for younger kids, JPL put a “Mars touchable” on a scanner so kids could scan it and create it.
“Kids just tall enough to see above the table could understand that they weren’t limited to the form factor,” said Rangel. “The interface is also so natural for them. So, what’s the next interface for scanners? Could we put it on [the Mars rover] Curiosity? Let it scan so we can print a surface of Mars? It’s just a shift in the way we’re consuming the complexity of the information.”
In several sessions at the event, the acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) was mentioned. Kurti transformed the term first into “STEAM,” adding art, and then “eSTEAM,” with a little “e” for entrepreneurship.
“We don’t just want problem solvers; we want proactive problem solvers. … [The world] needs people who say, ‘Ooo, that’s a problem. I can fix it!'” said Kurti.
“How much more effective would the world be if we could create a generation of proactive problem-solvers,” he continued, workers who identify and solve a problem perhaps before a business or boss even has time to register the issue.
“What if even 10 percent of the next generation was that?” asked Kurti. “How much could that change the world?”