National Science Foundation - Major Research Instrumentation Program

Award Date: July 2013

Summary

Principal Investigator JOHN RIEFFEL, assistant professor of computer science, and Co-PIs ANN ANDERSON, professor of mechanical engineering, and STEVEN RICE, professor of biology, have been awarded a coveted $333,531 Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program grant from the National Science Foundation for their project "MRI: Acquisition of a Multi-Material 3D Printer to Enable Novel Multi-disciplinary Research and Research Training" (NSF Award ID CMMI-1337768).  By harnessing a huge demand for prototyping technologies, the PI, Co-PIs, and Senior Personnel Takashi Buma, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, Michael Hagerman, professor and chair of chemistry, and Robert Olberg, Florence B. Sherwood Professor of Life Sciences, will launch a new era of innovative research, with applications ranging from the neuromechanics of dragonfly capture to the manufacture of novel aerogel coated surfaces to the design of completely soft robots.

Abstract

This Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant provides funding for the acquisition of a high resolution, multi-material 3D printer at Union College. By harnessing a huge demand for prototyping technologies, researchers will launch a new era of innovative research, with applications ranging from the neuromechanics of dragonfly capture to the manufacture of novel aerogel coated surfaces to the design of completely soft robots. This will bridge the growing rapid prototyping "knowledge gap" in higher education. The accelerated development cycles facilitated by modern rapid prototyping will enable researchers to continuously iterate and improve upon designs, "failing cheaply and quickly" before arriving at novel and sometimes unexpected solutions. Students across multiple disciplines experienced with the benefits of rapid prototyping will find their services increasingly in demand by employers in coming years.

This 3D printer will be at the center of an inherently cross-disciplinary and highly collaborative research program at Union College. Providing a common space in which community members can design solutions and solve problems together will help foster and spark spontaneous interdisciplinary collaborations. Students using the space will be emboldened as craftspersons and enabled as entrepreneurs. Educators at the college will be able to design novel interactive models and demonstrations. Not only will this acquisition help set the standard for the integration of rapid prototyping techniques into undergraduate research and teaching, it will provide tools, methods, and environments around which tomorrow's designers will coalesce and thrive. This program will continue Union College's strong record of undergraduate research among students from traditionally underrepresented groups, through programs such as the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), designed to prepare historically underrepresented students for the sciences, and the POSSE program, designed to identify students with leadership potential and strong academics who might be overlooked in the traditional college selection process.