Full STEAM Ahead to Interdisciplinary Technology

(Feb. 8, 2013) Since 2007 Savannah's Telfair Museums have organized the popular five-day PULSE Art+Technology Festival. For the 2013 festival, Armstrong partnered with PULSE and hosted a workshop for teachers, Full STEAM Ahead: 3D Printing in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math Education for Educators. The event was presented free of charge for the participants, thanks to funding from the City of Savannah's Department of Cultural Affairs. During the on-campus workshop, educators from the Savannah area learned about the innovative capabilities of 3D printing in the classroom. The seminar was the first workshop in Savannah on 3D printing open to the public.

At the workshop, an interdisciplinary group of Armstrong faculty members from Art, Music and Theater, Biology, and Mathematics presented some of the many advantages of incorporating 3D printing in the classroom. Bill Deason, the team's student member from the engineering department, helped build and program the MakerBot CupCake 3D printers on campus and ran them during the program.

The term 3D printing is commonly used to describe Solid Freeform Fabrication (SFF), which refers to specific methods that produce physical three-dimensional shapes from digital information. This involves starting with Computer-Aided Modeling information—either generated from a 3D scan or created from scratch with 3D modeling software—and converting that data into a series of two-dimensional layers. A method called stereolithography processes the two-dimensional layers to fabricate a physical model of the digital data with the 3D printer. While there are a variety of methods and materials that can be used to create a physical “printed” model, the workshop focused on open-source resources and lower-cost accessible technologies that are available and developing today.

“Integrating 3D printing into the curriculum exposes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) students to state-of-the-art technology in a very wide range of classes,” explained Angela Horne, associate professor of art. She also showed examples of how 3D printing relates jewelry, fashion, and design.

Austin Francis, assistant professor of biology, explained the potential of 3D printing in the sciences, and demonstrated how to create printed 3D models of the skull of a Winghead Shark, as well as simulated molecules.

Francis illustrated to the educators gathered how 3D printing is beneficial for many science courses, including ichthyology, comparative anatomy, zoology, and introductory biology classes. One of the many benefits of 3D printing is that it allows students to handle objects that are normally breakable or microscopic.

Dr. Jared Schlieper, assistant professor of mathematics, turned calculus functions into a tangible form and provided examples of applying 3D printing in math classes. “3D printing would make it easier for students to visualize what 2D, hand-drawn functions look like, and they would be able to hold the object that they have been graphing,” said Schlieper.

“Whether the process or the final output, or both, are implemented in class projects, the experience can enrich a multitude of courses across disciplines,” said Horne. “From a faculty perspective, the potential for collaborative research is abundant.”

-Writing contributed by Lauren Geiger, Armstrong marketing and communications intern Spring 2013