I propose to organize a “3D printing club” in the Physics Department. The club will consist of approximately 10-15 Physics undergraduates. We will meet approximately ten times each semester, each time with 3-5 students, to learn 3D modeling using computer-aid design (CAD) software, to experiment with 3D printing, and to design our own 3D products.  For those who are already involved in research with faculty members, they may use their “club” hours to design products useful for research. The Mead funds will be used to procure a 3D printer, printer filaments and other material and supply needed for 3D printing, as well as to provide incentives for the weekly meeting and prizes at the end of the semester for students whose design and/or 3D-printed products are exceptionally sophisticated or innovative.

  • 3D-Printing Technology 

Three-dimensional printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), is a process in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry (hollow structure can be printed with a secondary supporting material that can be dissolved away after printing). The control can be provided from a 3D model or other electronic data source such as CAD drawings. Earlier AM equipment and materials were developed in the 1980s, but have only progressed rapidly in the past 5-10 years. Currently 3D printing is used in a wide area of applications such as industrial prototyping, providing low-cost prototypes with fast turn-around time; high-tech development such as printing high-density lithium-ion batteries; printing medical shielding with highly-customized size and shape; in-home project construction by amateurs; and educational projects in public schools and science museums. As an educational tool for K-12, it allows young children to practice 3D modeling, and more importantly to encourage creativity, to learn from their own (modeling) failure and to build up perseverance.

In college-level education, 3D printing has become increasingly useful in research as well. For example, faculty in the Physics Department have started considering 3D printing as a tool for detector prototyping, from constructing mirrors of arbitrary shapes, to more difficult tasks such as 3D-printing light guides and scintillators. On the other hand, because 3D printing is a relatively new field, not all (if at all) undergraduate students in physics have been exposed to this increasingly useful tool. Students in our department are typically too busy and too intimidated by the prospect of taking time away from their course work to learn a completely new technology (such as taking the 3D printing course through the engineering school which is not part of the physics undergraduate program). In addition, there is no 3D printer easily accessible to them that is free for project design.


I propose to use the Mead funds to procure a 3D printer based on the Fused Deposition modeling (FDM) technology. This type of 3D printer uses thermoplastic filament as the input material to build 3D products and is by far the most affordable type of all 3D printers. I will start from a presentation at the first SPS (Society of Physics Students) gathering to talk about my research and the Dream Idea is to recruit 10-15 students. Then I will organize weekly gatherings, each time with a subset of this group (3-5 students each week) depending on everyone’s schedule and interest. Each gathering will last about 3 hours, with the possibility of longer time depending on how long it takes to print the projects.

Because I am new to 3D printing myself, I will learn together with students 3D modeling, CAD, and print our own exciting and fun products.  Students who are involved in research with other faculty members are more than welcome to bring in projects where 3D printing can be a useful solution.  As shown below, the CAD software we will focus on is solidworks, which is now widely used in 3D design and modeling. Training in solidworks will be beneficial to almost everyone involved in research and will greatly enhance their opportunity when looking for summer internships in the future. A proposed timeline is shown here.  For a 14-week long semester, we will meet about 10 times, avoiding the first and the last weeks as well as the fall or spring break and the midterm period. Because I will only meet with a subset of the group each week, most of the content will be repeated for two consecutive weeks.


1 Introduction to 3D printing, visiting the 3D printing lab in the Engineering school

2, 3 Introduction to 3D printing, setting up printer, installingsolidworks(a CAD software)

4, 5 Installingsolidworks(continued), simple modeling

6, 7 Simple project #1 – printing fixed objects and objects with movable parts

8, 9 Simple project #2 – printing with metal-filled filaments (radiation shielding)

10, 11 Customized project –  design your own 3D-printed Christmas present

12, 13 Research project #1 – printing light guides from t-glasefilaments

14, 15 Research project #2 –  experimenting with a filament extruder and printing

16, 17 Research project #3 – extruding filaments using recycled plastics and printing

18, 19 Research project #4 – extruding tungsten-powder-filled filaments and printing

20 Last meeting, evaluate everyone’s effort throughout the year, award “ceremony”

For the proposed timeline it is also worth mentioning that although students are more than welcome to come up with their own designs using time outside the gatherings, there will be no “homework” for students. The most time-consuming tasks, such as software installation and 3D modeling, can be done during the 3-hour club hours. This hopefully will not impose much burden in addition to their course work.

The 3D printer I chose is the “ROBO 3D R1 3D Printer” with a maximum build size of 8″ by 9″ by 10″ and a resolution of 100 mm. For the fall semester I will buy filament spools to supply the printer. In the spring semester we will purchase a filament extruder and experiment with extruding our own filaments using commercially available plastic pellets, recycled plastics, and also mixtures of ground plastic pellets and tungsten powder to achieve a high-density material. We will also purchase a blendtec blender to ground plastic pellets and failed products into plastic powder to supply the filament extruder.  The rest of the Mead funds will be used to purchase incentives for the weekly gathering at about $20 per week for one sandwich tray or pizza plus drink. This leaves about $500 as end-of-semester prizes for students whose projects are exceptionally sophisticated or innovative. The prize could be annual subscriptions to the “Maker” magazine, and the grand prize could be even a low-cost 3D printer (less than $300) or multiple 3D pens (under $100 each).

Proposed budget:

3D printer $800

Filament spools $300

“Filastruder” filament extruder $300

Blendtec blender for recycling failed products $300

Thermoplastic pellets $50

Refreshment for weekly meetings

Up to $25/wkx 20wks  $500

End-of-year prizes $750

TOTAL $3,000