University of Alberta banner
Academic Information and Communication TechnologiesUniversity of Alberta

AICT 3D Printer - Project Sampler

This page showcases some of the ways campus members have used the AICT 3D printer. These projects fall primarily into the categories of: visualization of scientific data, models from medical imagers, reconstructions from archaeological data, the use as a tool in fields related to art, design, and engineering. 3D printing is still a new technology, and new applications are being discovered all the time. If you have some ideas, and would like to know whether the printer could be useful to you, contact the printer support team at:

Visualization of Scientific Data:

Space Physics Simulations:

Photo of the Internal Magnetic Field of Neptune

Researchers at the University of Alberta study the complex interactions between charged particles and the magnetic fields that extend far into the upper atmosphere of many planets. Most of these charged particles are expelled by the sun in the form of solar winds, and interplanetary coronal mass ejections. This interaction is often visible from the Earth's surface in the form of the Auroras - the Northern and Southern Lights.

Photo of the Magnetic Field of Earth The above image shows the complex arrangement of the internal magnetic field of Neptune F, which is strongly titled relative to the rotational axis of the planet, and offset from the planet's centre. To the right is a representation of the field lines of Earth's magnetic field. The University of Alberta is only institution in Canada working on three-dimensional global magnetohydrodynamic modelling of the solar wind interaction with the Earth's magnetosphere. The project makes use of several High-Performance Computers owned by the University.

Please see the Space Physics site for more info

Molecular Models:

Rendered Image

Shiga toxin is the multi-part protein, which is produced by some E. coli and is implicated in so-called "hamburger disease". When the toxin enters the bloodstream, it is carried by circulation to the kidney and binds to carbohydrates on cell membranes. Shiga toxin is then uptaken inside the cells, where it releases an enzymic subunit. This subunit protein damages the ribosomal RNA resulting in the shutdown of protein synthesis and cell death.

Photo Dr. Pavel Kitov and his colleagues research inhibitors to prevent the binding of the toxin to the cell membrane. To enhance the inhibitors, a second protein called SAP is being tested to create a better antidote. In the accompanying images the light blue structure is Shiga toxin and the darker blue is SAP. The inhibitors are red, white and green, while purple balls are calcium atoms in the binding site of SAP.

More information is available at: and

PhotoPhoto Data from Medical Imagers (CAT Scans, MRIs):

Modern computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners are able to output data in several 3D model formats that can be converted into STL or VRML files and printed on the 3D Printer.

Surgeons, for example, can take advantage of these printed models, as they are now able to physically hold and examine an accurate replica of an organ, a vertebra, or an entire jaw structure; which is what this partial skull above right was used for. (Special thanks to Dr. Manuel Garcia and Dr. Pierre Boulanger for letting us use the CAT scan data).

Photo of Nose Model

This nose was created using data from an MRI scan of our very own Jon Johansson. Maryia Kazakevich imported the data from the dicom files and created a printable model using OpenDx and Blender.

For more details as to how these models were created, please visit:

The Pliosaur Fossil:

Photo of the Pliosaur Skull

This marine reptile swam in the seas that covered modern Columbia 130 million years ago. After it died, the four-meter long Pliosaur was covered in sediment, fossilizing the bones over millions of years. In 1967, a team of Columbian palaeontologists excavated the remains. The fossils remained forgotten in the storage vaults of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bototá. Student Marcela Gómez rediscovered it in 2000. In 2004 Gómez brought the fossil with her on loan to The University of Cambridge's Sedgwick Museum, where it was scanned.

This scaled-down version is derived from the scanned data. For more on Sedgwick's pliosaur fossil, see

Biomedical Engineering:

Maryia Kazakevich and Dr. Jon Johansson of AICT worked with Dr. Kelvin Jones of the Department of Biomedical Engineering to create a computer model of a motor neuron. The team built this model based on calliper measurements carefully taken from a bisected motor neuron of a cat spine. Working with AVS/Express, they applied a mathematical equation to these measured points to develop a smoothed, interpolated model of the neuron for use in computer modelling and animation.

Dr. Jones' work focuses on the propagation of electromagnetic pulses between neurons, and the computer model will help his studies in this regard. The printed model is based on the same data, and represents only a small portion of the interior of the neuron. Kazakevich and Johansson built this model as an educational demonstration, and included a cage to support the delicate dendrites.
University of Alberta Biomedical Engineering Website

Rehabilitation Engineering:

In the University of Alberta's Physiology department, Dr. Arthur Prochazka and his colleagues are using the 3D Printer to construct prototypes of transmitters and muscle-stimulator control devices. Dr. Prochazka's work includes a "Bionic Glove" used by C5-C6 quadriplegic people, and a similar "Impact Cuff" for hemiplegic people. The user wears a glove with an in-built stimulator that is connected by electrodes to several muscles in their arm. A second device, worn on the ear, detects tooth-clicks and sends a signal to the stimulator in the glove to cause the user's arm to open, close, or release.

The designs are first modelled in the computer program Rhino, then manufactured using the 3D Printer. The team infiltrates the models with epoxy, then sands, buffs, and treats them with ski wax to ensure they are smooth. Following treatment, they can be used either as functional objects, or as molds for the rubber components, or even to make vacuum-formed casings.

"Having the 3D Printer on campus is invaluable to our work. It is always there when we need to use it." says rehabilitation engineer Michel Gautier.For more information on Dr. Prochazka's work, please see his website.

The Stanford Bunny:

This model was originally created in 1994 by Greg Turk and Marc Levoy of Stanford University for a paper on creating polygonal models from range scans. Since 1994, the Stanford Bunny has been one of the most commonly used reference models in testing computer graphics techniques. Nathan Funk of the University of Alberta used the 3D Printer to create a plaster replica of the original terracotta figure. This printed model was used for his M.Sc. Thesis, "Using a Raster Display Device for Controlled Illumination," to compare images scanned using his new technique to the actual 3D model. The original 3D model is found at the Stanford 3D Scanning Repository at

Archaeological Reconstructions

Modelling the Architecture of Kastro Kallithea, Greece:

Since 2004, the University of Alberta has operated a Classical Archaeology field school in associated with the Urban Survey at Kastro Kallithea, in Central Greece. Project director Dr. Margriet Haagsma of the Department of History and Classics is studying the archaeological and architectural remains in order to understand the site's context in 4th Century BCE Thessaly.

Working with Chris Want of AICT, Dr. Haagsma and her students studied the remains of structures from the site in order to model what they believed these structures looked like twenty-three centuries ago, including a public building in the ancient agora and the east city gate.

"I believe that both the modelling program Blender and the 3D printer are wonderful educational tools." says Dr. Haagsma. "They not only afford students the opportunity to reconstruct three dimensionally the original state of often abstract archaeological remains, but also oblige them to actively rethink the actual process of reconstruction. It is this process which is one of the most difficult, but also one of the most rewarding and informative aspects of archaeology. Making a model forces you to thoroughly think through every assumption you have about the remains you discovered and the society they belong to, but prior to the computer technology now available modelling was usually far too time consuming and expensive to be feasible."

The 3D Printer has many applications in archaeology, including making models of buildings, terrain models, as well as replicas of artefacts, from vases to arrowheads.

Preservation of History

Creating a replica of the Ferryland Cross:

(The following excerpts are from the Ferryland cross article.)

The original object, "a nine-inch metal cross, was discovered during excavation of the ruins of the Ferryland colony, about 80 km south of St. John's, Newfoundland. Founded in 1621, Ferryland was one of the first permanent English settlements in Canada."

"Realizing that this unique artifact was susceptible to further decay, conservators at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa decided to create a replica. That is when they contacted Chris Want, administrator and operator of the AICT 3D printer, a machine that constructs plaster models from digital data files."

"'The researchers felt that the cross is so deteriorated that it won't be around much longer,' says Want. 'They wanted to have a record.'"

The original cross was scanned using a 3D scanner, which creates a digital copy of an object's geometry. The data was then sent to AICT and the replica printed on our first 3D Printer, which could only print off white models.
Canadian Conservation Institute article on the Ferryland Cross

Art, Design, and Product Engineering:

The AICT 3D printer has become an "extremely important" teaching tool in the Department of Industrial Design, according to Professor Cezary Gajewski. The printer allows the forty-odd students in Gajewski's classes to quickly create detailed "white models" of their product designs. Such models are common in commercial industry, where they are used to determine whether designs have the needed ergonomic qualities, fit and texture.

Gajewski points out that students in his Department have always made such models, but that the 3D printer has cut production time from days to hours.

"In the world of design, time is a precious commodity," says Gajewski. He explains that the time students save by using the printer can be put back into design development, "which ultimately enhances their designs."

"Changes and corrections to designs are also much easier with the printer," he adds. "I think there will be more usage of this service across the campus once people grasp how to use it." The Department of Industrial Design is one of the primary users of the 3D Printer. Student product designs, such as soap dishes, toothbrush holders, and razors are prototyped using the printer, which can also print colours and textures, helping to visualize the final product.

The Bike Model: This model was designed and printed by Ian Campana, a fourth-year Industrial Design student. Campana's goal was to redesign a bicycle frame. Working first from sketches, Campana created a digital 3D model, then printed the final product as this 1/4 scale plaster model to see how the redesigned frame would fit with the other parts of the bike.

The project demonstrates both the strengths and limitations of the 3D printer. The model is extremely delicate and detailed, but the spokes are not truly to scale. Spokes are extremely thin relative to the other parts of a bicycle, and the wheels of a uniformly 1/4 scale model would be too fragile to print successfully.

University of Alberta Department of Art and Design

Mining Engineering:

Bucket Photo by: Chris Want Dr. Tim Joseph, a professor of Mining Engineering at the University of Alberta, and Director of the Alberta Equipment-Ground Interactions Syndicate, and Mr. Ning Shi are responsible for designing this new bucket for power shovels, which are used in the tar sands in northern Alberta.

These large buckets are mounted on some of the largest power shovels (100 tons) in the world, to remove soil or rock Bucket Photo by: Chris Want from the surface and deposit them in some of the largest dump trucks in the world (400 tons).

"We have used the 3-D printer to produce several versions of the geometry and generate small giveaways for industry to take away and provide feedback." says Dr. Joseph. "Using the 3-D printer as a tool for promoting a project has been invaluable in gaining in-kind financial support for this project.

Mining Engineering at the University of Alberta

Set Design:

Colin Winslow designed this set for Nuova Opera's production of "Don Giovanni" using AutoCAD 2000. Theatre designers regularly use CAD software to produce plans and working drawings, as well as 3D computer models of their sets. In addition, set designers need a tangible model of their sets to provide to the carpenters, painters, and lighting technicians, whose construction of the real set is dependent on the model. Now, with the 3D printer, designers like Colin can take their designs and print off a scale model of their entire set.

Since printing off the Don Giovanni set using AICT's first 3D printer, Colin discovered a more efficient use of the technology. Many aspects of the Don Giovanni set, such as the flat walls, can be easily and cheaply constructed using traditional methods and materials like cardstock and foamcore. However, for intricate parts,especially scale furniture, the 3D printer has proven very handy. For one set model, Colin needed around one hundred scale chairs, which would have taken an inordinate amount of time by hand. The 3D printer was able to construct them in an afternoon. To achieve an exact finish and colour, important in building the final set, Colin likes to paint them by hand, though is eager to experiment with the new printer's ability to print in colour.

Colin's views on the 3D Printer

Revised: February 24, 2010


University of Alberta

© University of Alberta
AICT Privacy Policy