A Hub for Innovation and Learning: 3D Technologies Offered by UC San Diego Library

Higher education institutions have reached a pivotal turning point, where a confluence of innovative and ground-breaking technologies are bringing an abundance of change to the way in which we teach and learn. From cloud computing to 3D printing and augmented reality, these technologies are altering how we live and work.

For decades, a great deal of scholarly work was limited to photos and text, causing important details about objects and places to be lost and our ability to communicate complexity to be hampered. At the heart of our most recent wave of innovative technologies is a newfound ability to quickly and easily process and visualize 3D data. The means to design and build a new object, explore a place without being there, and capture and share the world around us is now highly accessible. Geisel Library’s Digital Media Lab (DML) puts these tools in the hands of students and faculty and lends expertise and context to make the learning experience simple, fun, and personally relevant. The DML offers free 3D printing, VR headset use, and expert consultation. The possibilities are endless, spanning almost every discipline. 

In September 2017, veterinarian Dr. Jenn Moffat from Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography approached the DML for help to create a prosthetic shell piece for their loggerhead sea turtle. When the sea turtle had been found in a power plant in New Jersey she was dangerously underweight, paralyzed in her back flippers, suffering from a spinal deformity, and missing a big chunk from the back of her shell. The vets noticed that the gap in her shell had begun to grow inwards, which required a brace to keep it from poking back into her body. A researcher decided to make a 3D scan of the shell gap using Agisoft Photoscan, a program which takes high resolution photos and stitches them together to create a 3D model. The DML took this model, solidified it, and created a filler piece which perfectly fit the gap. Then the DML printed this piece in 3D which only cost about $4 dollars. Now, the turtle’s weight and health have greatly improved.

Photoscan technology is truly amazing, and often at the center of UC San Diego research. It allows scholars to share objects which are too precious to hold and too scarce to visit. The DML teamed up with History professor Dr. Edward Watts and the Library’s Digital Development Program to 3D scan a collection of Roman coins, some almost 2000 years old. Using a 50mp camera and a macro lens, the DML took 11 photos of each coin face, showing incredible detail unperceivable to the naked eye. Every tiny nick and scratch is now visible, and the complex artistry of the minters die could be seen and appreciated for all its painstaking detail. The 20 models are up online, viewable in browser or virtual reality without any additional software.

Lab equipment is often expensive. A researcher from an underfunded lab recently approached the DML to find a solution to quickly and effectively clean his microplates, a block of 96 small test tubes arranged in a square grid. The equipment on the market cost $2,000 per unit, making it extremely hard for the researcher to continue his work. The DML used 3D cad software to build and print two prototypes  saving the lab $4,000.

The Digital Media Lab is open to all UC San Diego affiliates and is free of charge. You can contact a consultant at DMLtech@ucsd.edu or through the Library’s website at library.ucsd.edu/dml.

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