Inventing the Future: 3D Printing

It is hard not to look back to the history of printing, see how far we have come, and what the purpose of printing technology has done for society. It all started as the necessity of sharing information and passing knowledge to others. Even though the first printing process started back in the form of woodblocks used in China for printing on textiles and paper, it was a way to reproduce information for the masses and fairly fast. Not only was it a way to share information, but also to make art and design attainable by everyone.

A 3D printed cast.

A 3D printed cast. Image from

The technology of modern day printing has changed so much in the last few decades—without these advances cool things like the custom 3D cast pictured above may have never happened. A Victoria University of Wellington grad student, Jake Evill is pushing the boundaries of couture casts with his Cortex cast. Each cast can be customized and fitted for the patient—based upon the injury, X-rays taken, and a 3D scan of the surrounding limb. These casts are not only lightweight and airy, but they are designed to be able to be removable, worn with clothes, and be shower-friendly. No more gross, stinky plaster or fiberglass casts. Granted, this thing may take a while to print—24 to 72 hours to fully set—but we at least have these possibilities.

Advancements in printing have even enabled people to even get their face—and life—back. According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, restaurant manager Eric Moger had lost a third of his face to an aggressive tumor that was growing underneath the skin on his face. Now he has had an opportunity to get his face back through advancements in printing technology. By taking scans of what was left of his skull and using computers to recreate the other side of his face using nylon plastic, Moger is now able to drink water without having liquid running out of one side of his face. The social value of printing has a positive impact on people’s lives; it is amazing to think that in the near future, printing could function on a cellular level, printing real skin or even body parts.

A life-size 3D print of Thomas Jefferson.

A life-size 3D print of Thomas Jefferson on exhibit at The National Museum of African American History and Culture (temporarily located at The National Museum of American History. This exhibit is now closed). Photo via Smithsonian 3D Digitization Facebook page, photo by C. Thome.

Even the Smithsonian has jumped on the 3D printing bandwagon. Printing advancements have enabled the cloning and sharing of pieces with other museums around the world. Thanks to Redeye, a company that specializes on 3D printing and rapid reproduction, the Smithsonian was able to recreate a large 3D reproduction-quality historical replica statue of Thomas Jefferson. The team here at the Lemelson Center is even thinking about the implications 3D printing might have in our revamped Spark!Lab (opening 2015).

Three-dimensional printing has rightly been referred to as a “disruptive technology,” and I, for one, am greatly intrigued to further explore the opportunities and challenges of this new technology. These days we can get custom dental braces, custom T-shirts, custom iPhone covers, and more. What’s next?

Photography: The Invention that Keeps on Giving

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 5.16.39 PMPhotography is definitely the gift that just keeps on givingand in different forms! Thank you, Louis Daguerre, for inventing photography; without this gift we would not be able to document momentous events in our life (like my first time at the White House to help out at the Easter Egg Roll 2013), take #selfie duckface pics to post them on Instagram, or upload quick vids of ourselves to Vine.

If you haven’t explored the wonder of Vine, it is a product that Twitter acquired that allows for sharing quick, six second, looping videos. Brevity is key here, something that Twitter’s 140 character messages do so well. It doesn’t seem like very long, but it’s surprising what you can share in six seconds, especially when you get creative. Vine Vids are all about abbreviation—”The shortened form of something larger.”

Our Meta-Meme-Modern age of documenting and categorizing every moment of our lives, and then sharing it with the masses in small digestible chunks, is done with such urgency, yet some do not think about the technology behind it. It’s fun to see these various digital methods reference the past. All of those wonderful filters that various apps use reference the analogue processes—Van Dyke Brown, Cyanotype, Cross-Processed, Black and White filters—that have been done in darkrooms with hazardous chemicals for decades. I have quite a bit of experience producing images the old-school way and love it! However, I also love that I don’t have to risk my life anymore using potassium cyanide or silver nitrate. Working in the darkroom was never a quick process, but more of a zen experience—something that could never be rushed. Current digital technology is often almost instantaneous.

I find it quite interesting these days that videos/gifs appear to be the next best thing to push content out into the aether. These small, bite-sized videos serve as an appetizer to an idea, concept, or expression, allowing the user to carefully create a potent and concentrated snippet of their world. The small size of the files not only makes them faster to upload, but also easier for the viewer to digest. Do small files equal short attention spans? Has the advancement in technology in photography spoiled us to seek a quick turn around for visual pay off?

Recently, I picked up a book in the library, Photography Changes Everything, a collaboration between Aperture and the Smithsonian, which is a fascinating collection of images and responses to how the image changes and shapes everything in our lives. Many experts, writers, inventors, and public figures from different professional backgrounds have contributed to this book, telling the stories of how their lives have been shaped or changed by photography. Contributors include the Smithsonian’s Curator of Photographic History Shannon Thomas Perich as well as John Baldessari, John Waters,  Hugh Hefner, and others. Check out the book or visit the Photography Changes Everything website and see how the photographic image does indeed change everything around us. Photography has certainly changed my life and made me into the New Media Specialist that I am today here at the Lemelson Center.