3-D class models science education

Four 3-D printers at the Gig Harbor branch of the Pierce County Library are part of a series of courses available for free

Staff writerJuly 2, 2014 

Adam Jackman shows off the Gig Harbor Library’s set of 3-D printers to David Gaither, 11, Finn Allen, 8, and Ella Allen, 7, on Thursday.

KAREN MILLER/GATEWAY PHOTO

While Adam Jackman and Terri Tortorici May closely watched 3-D printers making plastic cellphone holders, a group of young children gathered around in awe.

“It makes those?” David Gaither, 11, inquired.

“89-year-olds have the same reaction,” Jackman said.

May, 52, and Jackman, 43, are adult services librarians at the Gig Harbor branch of the Pierce County Library. They’ve both been there seven years, but May outranks Jackman by about two weeks. The two help out with the library’s series of 3-D printing classes.

“We, for a long time, were saying (3-D printing) was the future, when really it’s the present,” May said. “It’s been around for 30 years, it’s just because the desktop stuff is new.”

By the end of June, the library had presented nine introductory classes that brought in 227 attendees. Of that number, 184 were adults and 43 were teens and children.

The diverse age groups are part of why the library applied for a grant from Afina (the company that manufactures the printer) in the first place. May said she’s discouraged by statistics showing the lack of women in engineering fields. Her hope is the printers will be a gateway for young minds.

“It’s men, it’s women, it’s girls, it’s boys,” she said, describing the class. In the hands-on course, the youngest participant so far was 12 years old; the oldest 81.

The library has four machines, a gift from the manufacturer Afina with an encasement given by the Friends of the Library. The library offers two classes. Introduction to 3-D Printing is a lecture and demonstration class; 3-D Printing for Beginners is a hands-on, five-week class.

The printer uses a digital file, some of which is downloaded from thingyverse.com. To melt the plastic, the printer’s head gets to be about 500 degrees. Naturally, the classes are very safety conscious, May said.

For Jackman, the program is a new way to experience the library. In the past, the library has always been the place to go for more details, he said, so why not more details about cutting edge technology?

“The public library wants to be in that position. You’ve got a questions? Go to the library,” he said.

May and Jackman have a box of projects that have been created by the printers. Abraham Lincoln’s face, a spaceship from ‘Doctor Who’ and a little red elephant.

May said there are misconceptions the library has had to clear up. For example, a patron worried the printers could make guns. May listed the other uses for the printer and assured the patron the library’s machines are too small and would never be used to print anything dangerous.

“We talked about printing in chocolate, printing in plastic, printing houses, printing clothes, printing parts that you need for your toaster. You name it, it can do it,” May said.

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