Review: 3D printing at the Science Museum

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On the 9th October the Science Museum in South Kensington proudly opened its latest exhibition, ‘3D Printing’. The free exhibition, which will run until July 2014, claims to look beyond the hype and present how real life innovators are harnessing the potential of multi-dimension printing.

These relatively new machines make it possible to create virtually any design from a 2D plan. The printer inserts thin layers onto exact locations on a template, to dimensions precisely determined by the original design. These layers eventually stack up into an entire 3D model. The possibility to print almost anything from bikes to guns is suddenly very real – and relatively cost effective.

This technology, which was once available only to large engineering companies, is now becoming accessible to a wide range of people. With this diversity comes a whole host of useful applications, and it is this factor that is showcased at the Science Museum. The public can see feats of plastic engineering at first hand and, as with many other exhibitions in the museum, explore them in an interactive way, having the chance, for example, to crank a plastic engine and watch videos of homemade designs being printed.

On display there are many examples of the medical applications of 3D printing, from plastic teeth to skull patches, as well as anatomical applications such as facial reconstruction and skeletal support, featuring references to real life success stories.

There are over 600 3D printed objects on display; the most striking is not an engineering or medical design but rather an example of the artistic potential of the process. “Pneuma 2” is a representation of a human lung, designed by the MIT professor Neri Oxman. Small colourful human figures can be seen adorning the penultimate wall display. These sculptures are simulacra of actual visitors to the museum this summer, captured and printed in preparation for the reveal earlier this month.

The exhibition allows visitors to form their own opinions on the various uses of this new technology.