A newly installed printer in D Building cost $70,000, and the stuff in its replacement cartridges goes for about $4 a cubic inch.
No, CLU is not buying computer peripherals from a Pentagon subcontractor, but it does have one of the most advanced 3-D printers in all of Southern California. The top-of-the-line ZPrinter 650 by ZCorp doesn’t use paper. Instead, its jets blow out fine layers of selfadhering plastic powder to build just about any model or prototype that you can dream up, in a full range of colors, with applications all the way from biology and computer science to multimedia art.
Students in Bob Rumer’s introductory bioengineering and physics classes are using the machine to make parts for robots and intricate tracks for rolling marbles.
“If we were to do this with regular plastic, forget it. It would be six months,” Rumer said.
The 3-D printer is not the only fancy widget or widget-maker available to students through CLU’s Hugh and Hazel Darling Center for Applied Scientific Computing, which was launched this semester with a grant from the Los Angeles-based foundation. But, perhaps even more than a high-performance computer cluster or a robotics instrument, this printer captures the imagination.
“We’re thinking of making a science building out of this, piece by piece,” said Grady Hanrahan, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the center, with only a trace of a smile.
That could take some time. As of fall 2011, printing out objects was such slow work that one of Rumer’s test runs – a hollow dodecahedron that took a few minutes to design – kept the machine busy for four hours. That was simply because the final product measured more than four inches in height.
“Tall hurts,” Rumer explained.
Hanrahan described the printer as a “really fun tool” that will help CLU to recruit top-notch science students. One of the main goals of the center is to enhance the scientific computing skills of middle and
high school students, through workshops and teacher training.Part of the grant will fund 10 $5,000 college research fellowships during the next two years, increasing the number of CLU students doing full-time research with faculty mentors during the summer.