For doctors and scientists interested in sharing their 3D modeled research or building on the work of others, the National Institutes of Health’s 3D Print Exchange is the place to go. Since its launch in June of last year, the Exchange has help encourage collaboration in scientific discoveries and promoted STEM Education with the simple tool of information availability.
Information at Everyone’s Fingertips
The government-sponsored site contains models useful for scientists and doctors alike, such as bacteria, proteins, and body parts. They also offer modeling tutorials for students and educational material for teachers.
Digital models were in use for some time before the advent of 3D printing, but converting these models to a 3D printable format is actually a bit of a chore. As users add more files to the credible, verifiable Exchange, people can skip over these lengthy tasks and get right to business conducting research and even saving lives.
Darrel Hurt, a NIAID researcher and one of the developers of the site explains, “We created this website as kind of a way to have a YouTube-like experience, but instead of exchanging and sharing and commenting on and remixing videos … we are doing all of those same things with 3D-print files.”
For the first time ever, ready-to-print copies of the influenza virus, e. coli, and insulin molecule, among many others, are at the finger tips of the general public. That might not seem very useful when you first think of it, but the site has illustrated workflows and other resources to help novices build 3D printed models of all sorts of materials, including a lab microscope and a library of proteins and macromolecules.
Making the Impossible Possible
Since 3D printed devices tend to be less costly than the ordinary manufactured ones, science labs and classrooms can print their equipment straight from the library. This is especially important for people in developing countries where equipment and models are prohibitively expensive or impossible to acquire. Also, a community with just one 3D printer available will be able to easily print cheap prosthetics from the models available in the library.
Doctors seeking information on a rare medical condition can quickly and easily search the database for information instead of calling on experts in the field and waiting for a response, which might make the difference between life and death for a patient.
Finally, the simple ability to easily visualize a molecule or virus is bound to be a driving force in new scientific discoveries.
The initiative was pioneered by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and the National Library of Medicine.
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