BUCKHANNON — West Virginia Wesleyan College is the first school in the country to have a new high tech piece of equipment.
Kristy Henson, a lab coordinator, instructor and co-curator of the natural history museum and the co-director of the 3D printing lab at Wesleyan, said this was not her first time working with 3D printing, but that Wesleyan’s newest printer is unique.
“I went to Marshall University and they had a printer in our biology department where I would print Native American remains,” Henson said. “I just found it fascinating and I wanted to continue that kind of research.”
Wesleyan’s 3D printer is different because unlike typical plastic printers, this one prints with paper. The machine traces the design with a knife, and a press will then apply 1,000 pounds of pressure on each layer. After 500 layers of paper are compressed, the 3D design resembles a piece of wood more than paper.
Henson said this is one reason the college wanted this kind of printer, because the only scraps are paper and they recycle all the leftovers. She could not wait to start using the printer, and the first thing that came out of the machine was her favorite.
“The first thing we printed — and I was really excited about it — was the ventricles of the brain, which is really hard for students to really understand because they can’t see it,” she said.
Skeleton models for anatomy classes can costs thousands of dollars, according to Henson, but the college can now print their own bones for $50.
Dr. Greg Popovich, associate professor of exercise science and athletic training and co-director of the 3D printing lab, said he hopes to use the printer to create physical replicas of injuries to student athletes.
“It became apparent that this could be a very useful tool for producing 3D printed images of injuries,” Popovich said. “We appreciate that Wesleyan has a large student athlete population that sustain injuries, and I thought it would be interesting to be able to reproduce the injuries from their cat scan and use that to teach their classmates.”
The 3D printer was paid for by an instrumentation grant and a grant called the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience that provided the lab with a research student and a trip to a national science conference in Austin, Texas to present the results of their research.
Rachel Fulks, a research student under the SURE grant and a senior at Wesleyan with an exercise science major and human biology minor, said she was not sure if she would like the research field, but her work has changed her mind.
“I never thought the research field was something I was interested in,” Fulks said. “But I’ve definitely reviewed a lot of my knowledge on osteology and bones and I have learned a lot about imaging techniques. For practice, I’ve been taking donated CT scans from students and I’ve practiced extracting different elements from the scans, so I have learned a lot more about the technology involved.”
Henson said she hopes different departments will use the 3D printer in the future for projects or research.
“My goal is to hopefully have research students every summer,” Henson said. “I want to be able to enhance our teaching and to print injuries, but overall I just want to help our students like science.”