Since installing our Makerbot Printer in June 2012, we have been batting around ideas on academic uses for it. Professor Ben Edwards is experimenting with 3d printing volcano lava terrain from 3D grid surfaces. We initially tried printing a file converted to an .stl format but it was essentially just a surface (think of a sheet floating in mid air with nothing underneath it). This didn’t work well at all so he has consulted with Chris Boynton of Makerbot to help convert the files from just a surface to a fully printable file with a base and sides. Voilà! We succeeded. Ben is working on more ideas, and printing test files, so we can continue working to see how the Makerbot can support his research and classroom instruction.
Here is how Ben describes the project:
The focus of this project is to create 3-D models of different types of terrain, to be used in helping teach students how to visualize two dimensional surfaces as represented on topographic maps. We start by downloading digital elevation model data, processing the files using ArcGIS, and converting the files to .stl format. The resulting models will be used in teaching labs to help students visualize the shapes of various landscape features and distinguish landforms made in different geomorphic environments (e.g., glaciated valleys versus valleys shaped mainly by stream erosion).