Library unveils 3D printer for campus, community use

A new desktop 3D printer in SUNY Oswego’s Penfield Library recently built a model of a snake’s skull from a CT scan, marking the first student-created object for the new machine, available for campus and community printing projects with at least a week’s notice.

Lacey Brown holding 3D model of snake skull“One thing that’s very cool is we are one of the first colleges in the nation to offer this for the use of all faculty, staff and students,” said library Director Barbara Shaffer. On a priority basis, members of the community can request to use the machine as well.

Emily Thompson, learning technologies librarian, said a Technology Initiative Project Grant from college’s Campus Technology Services enabled the library to purchase a MakerBot Replicator 2 printer, rolls of spaghetti-thin, corn-based plastic filament in green, yellow, red, orange, blue and natural, and a scale.

At 20 cents a gram, junior zoology major Lacey Brown’s model of the burrowing snake Teretrurus’ skull cost $4 to $5, Thompson said.

Brown passed the model around during a Quest research presentation April 17, letting the audience know the skull was computer-enlarged to print about 10 times life-size, to better study the tiny snake that’s native to southern India.

Shaffer and Thompson said applications for the new printer have already run the gamut from a prototyping project for a business class to making relatively small, usable objects such as iPhone covers and jewelry—provided the user supplies a computer file of types .stl, .obj or .thing. One professor plans to have students in an ergonomic design class make prototypes of utensils, Thompson said.

The printer uses the computer file to guide plastic filament, which is heated to near melting and extruded, layer by layer, in the appropriate shape. The machine will print support structures for more complex objects, such as the snake’s skull.

The printer’s software is a free download called MakerWare, which comes with a library of designs for objects. To produce models of custom objects, Thompson is teaching herself a free version of Blender software.

Those wishing to use the new 3D printer must allow at least a week’s lead time, fill out a form on the Penfield Library website and email the computer file to

PHOTO CAPTION: Skull session—Lacey Brown, a junior zoology major at SUNY Oswego, displays a model of a snake skull, the first student-made object produced on Penfield Library’s new 3D printer. Brown, with the assistance of mentor Jennifer Olori of the biological sciences faculty, obtained a CAT scan of the head of a snake native to southern India, and the printer extruded plastic filament one layer at a time to produce the model, about 10 times large than the tiny snake’s actual skull. Brown used the model in her research and a presentation April 17 at Quest, the college’s annual daylong celebration of scholarly and creative activity.

(Posted: Apr 26, 2013)

Tags: penfield library, innotech, 3d printer