I have always had a sense of amazement for 3D printers – machines that transform an image on a computer screen into a physical, functional model. One of my favorite memories from last semester was my first experience with a 3D printer – I created a model of my Yoda flash-drive and printed it with one of Penn State’s 3D printers. My fascination was almost palpable as I watched Yoda gradually take shape.
My 3D model of a Yoda flash-drive
As amazing as I thought this was, I soon learned that the capabilities of 3D printing are far more extensive. As I printed out my model of Yoda, a senior engineering student told me of a 3D printer that can actually replace human cartilage. I was skeptical of his claim, but when I checked the veracity of his statement, I learned that he had told the truth. Apparently, researchers have created 3D printers that can replace skin and even cartilage. The printer works by implanting fake cartilage, which causes real, healthy cartilage to grow around it. This invention will prove invaluable for people who have damaged their cartilage, as normally, cartilage is irritatingly difficult to regenerate.
3D cartilage printer
If you think that application of 3D printing was cool, my next example completely blows it out of the water. Apparently, the European Space Agency is considering using 3D printing to efficiently, quickly, and cheaply create the first moon base. The 3D printer would actually use the raw soil found on the moon to print out habitable domes that would protect astronauts from dangerous radiation and temperature levels. This method would allow 90% of the station to be constructed on the moon, making it far easier and cheaper to construct a potential lunar base.
An artist’s rendition of the prospective moon base
As crazy as this idea may sound, it may not be so impractical. The current model of the prospective printers has actually already produced a model of what the lunar structure will look like. They hope that the next model of their printer will be able to construct an entire building in just one week.
Output of the current printer