Physics majors benefit from access to 3-D printers

3D printer with students

Before heading off to complete his final two years in the 3-2 Dual Engineering Degree Program, Jonathan Kadowaki was able to use one of the newest tools in the Physics Department — a three-dimensional printer — as part of a collaborative research project with Professor Dennis Kuhl.

“I am an Applied Physics major and I am also participating in the 3-2 Engineering Program,” Kadowaki says. “I will be going to Case Western Reserve University this fall to study Mechanical Engineering. I used the 3-D printer to develop a model of an effusive gas doser before we actually build it. This was part of my capstone project.”

Kuhl says the gas doser they built would be used in an ultrahigh vacuum system in the Surface Lab. Kadowaki designed the gas doser through computational modeling.

“Now that he has a doser design, I have asked him to build a 3-D model of it using the 3-D printer, so that we can make sure everything fits the way it is supposed to fit before we hire a machinist to build the actual doser,” Kuhl says. “I also believe that learning how to make a 3-D prototype will be very valuable for Jonathan as he goes on in mechanical engineering.”

Having access to the printer has added to Kadowaki’s skill set.

“Using the 3-D printers has allowed me to become familiar with CAD (Computer-Assisted Drawing) software, which is commonly used in a lot of professions,” Kadowaki says. “3-D printers are also common in industry as well, so being familiar with them is also a plus.”

The Physics Department is home to three 3-D printers. Associate Professor Craig Howald brought the first 3-D printer to the Physics Department a few years ago. He had purchased one on his own and brought it into his lab in Rickey.

“I bought it thinking it would be of use to me personally but also that it would be useful to me as a physicist,” Howald says. “So it’s always been set up in the Scanning Probe Microscope Lab, which is where I do my research. I never thought about keeping it at home because most of the stuff I was going to use it for was going to be either directly physics or indirectly physics.”

More recently, members of the Society of Physics Students at Marietta applied for and received funding to purchase a printer through the Student Government Association. A third printer was also purchased by the SPS.

Though the 3-D printer hasn’t changed what Howald teaches, it has, at times, enhanced how he teaches.

“It’s moving me away from making complicated diagrams on the board,” Howald says.

Rather than drawing diagrams, he designs them on a computer and then prints them so students have a tangible representation of the object. Howald says he hopes to incorporate using the tool more frequently.

“The driving force behind research is never the tools that you use to do research,” Howald says. “It’s the research questions you have. The real key — the important takeaway — is that having tools that allow you to do different things allows you to think differently, and so creativity is encouraged by having more tools.”