Research in Real Time: 3D Printing Lab
Need a model of an ear, pancreas, or kidney? How about a model of a space station, or a theatrical mask? The Advanced Manufacturing Lab at Queensborough Community College can help.
“What we have is a million dollar lab that is unique and unlike almost any other lab in the world today at a college,” said Professor Michael Lawrence. The lab is home to a $370,000 3D printer that’s “the only one in the world” capable of creating plastic objects in over 300,000 colors.
Those objects include patient-specific anatomical parts that doctors use to make pre-surgical decisions about removing tumors or repairing body parts. The lab has created organs for Memorial Sloan Kettering, St. Jude’s, Children’s Hospital in Omaha, and St. Mary’s Hospital in Connecticut, among others. The University of Texas at El Paso recently ordered ears for research in a flexible material that the lab specializes in.
Funding comes from a New York State 2020 Challenge Grant from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. “We did this because we felt that 3D printing was going to be a big impact on manufacturing and it certainly is,” said Professor Stuart Asser, who wrote the grant. “We were surprised to find all the applications in the medical field.”
Models are designed on computers, then printed on a machine that deposits tiny layers of melted plastic to harden in the right spots. The process can take hours or even days. The lab also houses “subtractive equipment,” with lathes, drill presses, and other tools to teach students precision machining.
Students have gone on to work for companies like Shapeways, a 3D printing service. But the lab is not just about job readiness. Lawrence encourages students who have a “magnificent obsession” to “come in and build something.” Student Mateo Saenz dreamed of building an emergency response drone and got funding from the National Science Foundation. Rebecca Wang, a digital arts student who’s learning her way around the lab, imagines creating 3D sculptures or 3D renderings of animation action scenes.
Lawrence hopes students also see beyond the lab and Queensborough to continue their education: “They can get a tremendous base from what CUNY has to offer.”