PITTSFIELD-- It's Back to the Future, Iron Man and James Bond, rolled into one.

It's 3D printing -- and it's at St. Joseph's Central High School.

The advanced technology, which can make plastic figures of just about anything, is now a part of the Pittsfield school's AP physics class.

Teacher Bridget Gormalley's students used advanced math formula lessons recently to calculate the center of mass, to design plastic toy figures and print them. The figures had to be able to balance on a finger without falling over.

The students used CAD design computer software for the designs. Gormalley plugged the CAD files into a printer, which uses what she calls "Lego plastic" and boom: the physics class is turned into a toymaking factory.

Taking a bite out moviemaking, each student created their own unique figure. Jongwon Hong modeled a snake. Katie Nugai, Wyatt Porter and Tim Wiles designed a rocket ship attached to the moon. Annie Jeong and Yutang Emily Liu put together a bouncing toy. Tim Jones and Patrick Van der Vennet came up with a dead mouse balancing on a string.

The calculations, complicated for those not familiar with advanced math, are supposed to determine how the figures will balance. But it takes a lot of work.

"It wasn't really a trial and error thing," Gormalley said. "It ended up being trial and error."

Jeong said the project was "really hard" and took about two weeks to finish. The bottom part had to be heavier than the top for it to balance, she said.


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The top is hollow, she said.

Initially, Jeong and Liu worked on forming an octopus, but after a week they decided it was too difficult. Next, they tried a teddy bear over a few days before settling on a bouncing toy, which almost looks like a flying dish.

Jones said their efforts were delayed due to glitches with the software. Despite the adversity, all of the students successfully completed their projects.

The calculations are done in centimeters, to configure the center of mass for the figures. The printing can take from a half an hour for smaller figures, to several hours for larger ones, Gormalley said.

Gormalley made "a little pitch" to the school's booster club to purchase the printer at a little more than $800, she said. After successfully incorporating the printer into her physics class,

"This gets us started," she said of the AP physics project. She would like to incorporate design projects into other science classes as well.

Gormalley also teaches anatomy and biology. She has printed out different body parts to use as models when giving lessons in anatomy, she said.

Gormalley has plans to use the printer in her freshman environmental science class, which will be designing wind turbine blades, she said.

With the costs becoming more affordable, 3D printers are turning up everywhere, printing almost anything imaginable. "Some people are printing chocolate," Gormalley said.

Principal Amy Gelinas is a fan of what the printers can do for her school of approximately 140 students, which she said has been growing in recent years.

A former science teacher, Gelinas said "it's nice to be on the cutting edge of technology for such a small school."

To reach Nathan Mayberg:
nmayberg@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6243