CIT opens 3-D printer lab, class to be taught in spring

Geneseo recently acquired six 3-D printers, all of which are located in a Computer Information Technology-operated lab in South Hall 341 and are available for student use. An experimental introductory course in 3-D printing is planned for spring 2016. Lab coordinator and physics major junior Anthony Tantillo holds office hours in the lab three days a week and assists students with printing. According to Tantillo, though the school acquired its first 3-D printers over a year ago, “they were for experimentation purposes, really to see how 3-D printing works and the software behind them and all the little quirks of each printer.”

The lab with the six new printers was not opened until this semester. “Basically, I just leave the doors open and let people come in,” Tantillo said. Students can come prepared with a design file or simply an idea of an object they would like to print. Presently, there is no charge for printing or materials.

The lab contains three different models of printer at different price points. Each of the models uses plastic to create shapes in three dimensions. “Over the past few years, they’ve really come a long way in terms of quality, speed, build size, different materials—things like that,” Tantillo said.

Since spring 2015, Tantillo has collaborated with junior mathematics major Jenna Zomback and associate professor of mathematics Aaron Heap to design a curriculum for a course in 3-D printing.

“It would be basically an introduction,” Tantillo said. “So we’d start with basic modeling and then printing those and then we’d sort of expand to how to print more complicated objects.”

Heap will be teaching the course. “I’m in the math department, but I’m specifically making this not a math course,” he said. “[Students] don’t need to know how to use mathematical software. They just need to know how to use a computer.” The course will be taught under the interdepartmental heading.

Heap initially became interested in 3-D printers as tools for making educational models. “I knew I could use it to create stuff for some of my math courses, like multivariable calculus or topology,” Heap said. “I have a lot of stuff that I take into my multivariable calculus course where we study these various shapes.”

Tantillo, meanwhile, taught himself everything he knows about 3-D printing. “I bought my own printer in July of 2014, so I’ve been doing this for about a year now,” he said. “I’m pretty good at tinkering and figuring stuff out, but they are pretty intricate machines.”

Heap added that the course may count toward students’ fine arts general education requirements in future terms as well, but will not in its first incarnation this spring.

“Hopefully, it will be a course that ends up running every spring,” he said. “It may end up being an honors course at some point or we may just keep it open to anyone who wants to take it.”

Heap hopes to use the course as a way of introducing students from a variety of academic backgrounds to 3-D printing. The only prerequisite will be approval from the instructor.

“If we have 12 students, the ideal is about eight different majors because the main idea of this course is that we’re going to send these students to do research within their own departments,” Heap said. “There are professors in chemistry, anthropology, biology, physics that have needed [a 3-D printer] … but what I want to know is, how can a history major use 3-D printing? Because that’s one of the things we’re going to be learning in this class.”

Heap and Tantillo both expect Geneseo to acquire more printers in the future and continue to try new and different models.

“We just have no idea how this course is going to run,” Heap added. “We have the course plan, but we’re going to have to be flexible and change it as we go depending on what the capabilities of the students really are.”