Filomena, the 3D Printer

By Dr Kieran Meaney, UNE Discovery

2023 is going to be a year of innovation for UNE Discovery, thanks to our wonderful new piece of technology – “Filomena” the 3D printer!

3D printer

Filomena is a Flashforge Guider IIS fused filament deposition 3D printer. This means that is uses a coil of plastic filament which is fed through a heated nozzle to ‘draw’ out plastic to build up a model, layer by layer. Unlimited access to this technology is going to allow Discovery to build custom parts and specialised pieces for our activities. We have already been using 3D printed models for one of our very popular activities: Think Like A Rock!

TLAR, as it is also known, in addition to using rock samples from the New England region uses 3D printed topographic landscape models of locations such as Wollomombi Gorge and Ebor Falls. These models are all colour coded to reflect the geology and rock formations. We use these models to help show the impact rocks have on erosional features and landscape development. There is something incredibly powerful about being able to show students the geological story of the land they live on, or have driven through. Topographic models for specific, local, locations are not produced commercially, and so these models had to be custom made by us, and would not be possible without 3D printing technology.

Geology Toast

UNE Discovery is always looking to develop and improve our activities to add joy and excitement to our visits. As we wrap up 2022 the Discovery crew is putting the finishing touches on two new activities to offer in 2023. One is focused around forensic science, and the other is based around escape room style puzzle solving. Both of these new activities will be utilising new and custom 3D printed puzzle boxes, clues, and props. In particular, the Escape Room activity will heavily rely on 3D printed puzzle boxes requiring some abstract thinking to unlock. We’re looking forward to telling you more about these new activities next year.

Filomena will also help us to update some of our older activities with a new twist. Palaeontology Puzzles was among the first batch of activities that Discovery offered, and while it is still wildly popular among kids and adults alike, after 6 years some parts are beginning to wear a bit thin. By 3D printing fossil replicas, we could have a bottomless supply of fossils that stay up to date with the cutting-edge research being done in the UNE Palaeontology group. One such project is trying to reassemble a strange creature from 500 million years ago called Lapworthella. Palaeontologists have only ever found scattered pieces of shell-like scales called Sclarites, and are still unsure exactly how all these pieces go together into a whole animal. The most likely idea so far is that it was a slug like creature covered in spines! Perhaps by letting some creative kids play with these pieces we might stumble across a new discovery in palaeontology.

Image: A Lapworthella Sclarite, image courtesy of Steph Richter Stretton. These micro-fossils have never been found as an intact creature

No doubt the new technological addition to the team will open up many more opportunities for new activities and activity updates. 3D printing is an incredibly versatile tool that can produce incredibly specialised, custom, and unique pieces which will open up so many new directions for Discovery to go in come the new year. From custom test tube holders, models of insect anatomy, parts of your brain, or maybe some engineering puzzles – the sky is the limit of what we will be able to produce. Watch this space: There is definitely more to come!