3-D printing software soon available to students

Floridas first Advanced Visualization Center (AVC) will open its doors in June, offering USF students the opportunity to conduct research in three dimensions.

The AVC, located in the Physics building auditorium, will feature 16 high-resolution stereoscopic 3-D monitors with a screen resolution of more than 20 million pixels, allowing students to view 3-D models on screen and produce real-life physical models for presentations, lectures and projects for free, according to the website for USF Information Technology (IT).

The AVC is funded up to $1.05 million from the student-paid Technology fee, which approved a proposal by faculty from several departments on campus, including art and physics, to create the center during the 2010-11 fiscal year. Of the allocation, $110,000 covered hardware costs for the 2010-11 academic year, with another $40,000 to be spent in 2011-12 and $20,000 in 2012-13. The money also provides $20,000 per year for two years toward software costs and $444,000 for personnel, which will cover costs for a visualization consultant and two graduate students.

Lori Collins, a proposal participant, professor of anthropology and co-director of the Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST), said that the AVC will offer classes to students learning to use 3-D modeling software and create 3-D objects beginning in the fall 2012 semester.

The Visualization Center actually has a lot more than just the software, she said. Its a whole high-definition wall of video displays, so for example, when we teach classes in that room, wed be able to put things on that wall. So, its sort of like (the Museum of Science and Industry), basically, where youll have a sort of IMAX experience.

Printing in 3-D starts with the software. By inputting measurements for a dimensional object into a computer program, students would then be able to print their designs into an object by laying down successive layers of material until a finished product is formed, using plastics, metals or polymers.

The software that makes the 3-D modeling and printing possible was provided by Geomagic. Collins said they began using the software for 3-D modeling in two anthropology courses last semester: Technologies for Heritage Preservation and Museum Studies.

The museum classes last semester directly benefitted from the partnership, she said. Even though it hadnt been announced yet, we started using the software toward the end of the (fall) semester in the class so the students had access to being able to make 3-D models and then being able to actually print them in 3-D.

She said there is a student who is using the 3-D software to study artifacts in Guatemala without leaving USF, and another student who is using it to visualize ceramic pots and bowls throughout the state in 3-D.

Weve got a student now whos using it to study a monument that we have documented and brought into three dimensions, from Greece, she said. So they dont have to travel to these foreign countries they have it right on their computer.

James McLeod, a graduate student in anthropology, said the technology is user friendly and allows him to make 3-D models of the artifacts he is studying.

I can analyze and study those artifacts from my computer and make detailed measurements of them and also visualize the artifacts in ways that traditional documentation methods wouldnt allow, it wouldnt be possible, he said.

Aside from the students in those classes, Collins said in an email that researchers, graduate students and undergraduate students from history, anthropology, engineering, business and geology departments have had a chance to try the software. But AIST held an open house at the AVC in March to show how all students can use the software.

As part of AISTs work we are extending the software availability for research and projects for student use in the Visualization Center, she said. AIST will utilize the (AVC) to teach classes, train and work with students, and this will often involve the use of Geomagic software that is being provided as part of the AIST and Geomagic partnership.

Additional reporting by Shannon Pilato