By Charles Scott & Janelle Pottinger
Between 120 and 150 seats will be filled by mid-October for 3D printing classes at The Long Island Science Center (LISC) as part of an initiative to extend Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills locally.
“From Mind to Design: 3D Design & Printing,” will allow elementary and middle school students to learn engineering skills, design projects, and see them come to fruition through 3D printing. Registration will close once all slots are filled, which LISC expects to happen around mid-October. Classes will run for 5 weeks, starting on October 28th.
“We’re really excited to be able to offer it and we’re excited that there’s really not anything like this in our area for kids to do,” Cailin Kaller, the executive director of LISC, said.
This program is geared towards students the LISC considers underprivileged. LISC will offer subsidies for those students, so they can attend the classes at a reduced cost.
“If a child is receiving free lunch, they would be eligible for free tuition,” Kaller said. The group is based in Riverhead, where about 80 percent of students receive free lunches. LISC received a $20,000 grant in August from the Long Island Community Foundation (LICF) that will allow them to run the program, which will be free of charge for underprivileged students.
Enrolled students will learn engineering and design skills, then use those skills to create 3D models that will be printed using LISC’s incoming Flash Forge printers. The program will use multiple Flash Forge Finder printers manufactured in China. The printers cost about $300 each for consumers.
Over the summer, LISC tested the program with a small group of students. “When we went too structured, the kids were less interested than when we gave them sort of an open-ended project.” Kaller explained. Due to the preference for an open-ended structure, the program will focus on giving students the tools and knowledge to print their own ideas rather than giving them defined projects.
“Especially for younger students, it’s more valuable to have something physical, something tangible to work with,” Xavier Ochoa, Assistant Professor of Learning Analytics at NYU, said about the value of 3D printing education.
LICF, who is providing funding for LISC’s program, is a community foundation that assists donors in philanthropy. The $20,000 coming to the program are from the DeWitt Wallace Fund, a philanthropic fund. “We would love to see a more STEM-skilled workforce on Long Island going forward,” Marie Smith, director of donor relations and communications at LICF, said. Smith also noted that nothing LICF does is possible without donors.
LISC isn’t the only educational organization that has a 3D printing program. Port Jefferson Library is one of about three and a half dozen libraries on the island to offer free 3D printing programs. Port Jefferson Library hosts events for kids, teens and adults where they display the printers and allow patrons to print small items. The library also takes in new printing requests. “It’s something all libraries should have,” Salvatore Filosa, Library Aide Supervisor and Marketing & Outreach Librarian, said.
There are multiple day-to-day applications for 3D printing, beyond creating simple trinkets. According to the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, doctors are using the technology to produce thick vascular tissue in a process called bioprinting. The Wyss Institute has also explored the production of tiny, complex machines using 3D printing, from a mimic of the Wright Brothers biplane the size of a coin to complex geometric models.
3D printing also has industrial uses. S-Squared 3D Printers Inc. in Patchogue, for example, uses a large-scale concrete 3D printer to build customized 1800 square foot houses in 45 to 65 hours. “The building of houses is still in its infancy…” Robert Smith, CEO of S-Squared 3D, said. “…We might be printing motels, we might be printing storage facilities, we might be printing garages. There’s a whole myriad of things that [the printers] could do, and we’re just at the beginning of it.”
If this fall’s program achieves its goals and LISC applies for the same grant again in 2020, the program could run once more next year.