(Herald-Sun (Durham, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 01--CHAPEL HILL -- When the chemistry lab that Daniel Martin works in at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill needed a new piece of specialized equipment, he went ahead and created it himself.
Last summer, Martin, an undergraduate student of math and chemistry, used computer software to design a prototype for the equipment, and then had it printed in a single afternoon using a 3-D MakerBot printer.
The printer is in a new area of the university's Kenan Science Library called the "Makers' Space," which, when it's completely set up, will have three 3-D printers that can print objects to a user's specifications. It will also have a 3-D scanner that can analyze objects and deliver data on their shape and appearance.
While Martin said his lab didn't end up using the equipment made with the 3-D printer because of the extensive set-up it required, he did go on to use the 3-D printer for other projects, including a renewable energy model for a science festival and a piece of storage equipment for his lab. The printer is an "invaluable resource," he said.
"Knowing that there is a tool like this one on campus brings about unlimited potential for creative thought and imagination," he said in an email.
The library bought its first 3-D printer in April of last year for $2,200 as part of a pilot project. The pilot was successful, so they got an $8,183 internal library innovation grant for an additional 3-D printer, a 3-D scanner, and a computer for the scanner.
Another grant from a Student Library Advisory board-managed endowment produced another $3,600 for the third printer as well as material to print objects.
On a recent tour of the Makers' Space, library officials said they're in early stages of launching it.
Danianne Mizzy, head of Kenan Science Information Services for University Libraries, said they're working on setting up a schedule for when students can get help using the 3-D equipment. Several departments on campus plan to use the technology for class projects, she said.
The space is part of a new, technology-focused research initiative by University Libraries and is part of a transition for the Kenan Science Library.
When the Kenan Science Library opened in the fall of 2010 in the rebuilt chemistry and marine science building, Venable Hall, all of the print science collections -- except for the chemistry books -- were moved into in the Science Library Annex in Wilson Library.
Judy Panitch, director of library communications for UNC-Chapel Hill, said they saw the redevelopment of Venable as an opportunity to transform their library collections in the location.
Library officials said that online publishing has been a trend for scientific journals for about two decades. Some publish exclusively online, while others continue to also provide print versions.
When the Kenan Science Library opened, it also had a small number of books there too. But Panitch said that after analyzing the use patterns for the books, they found that demand was greater for collaborative and creative space.
Generally, Panitch said, library officials are moving in the direction that researchers are headed.
The Makers' Space is just one piece of a larger, technology-related effort called the "Research Hub" initiative.
In addition to the Makers' Space, library officials consolidated computers that are equipped with software for working with statistics or geographic information into one location in Davis Library.
Jill Sexton, head of digital research services for University Libraries, said they have data visualization software and tools for data mining there. The space is a collaborative effort between the library and The Odum Institute for Research in Social Science.
Panitch said they want to be a partner for researchers not just by providing books and journals, but also to help with the entire research life cycle.
"Library services aren't stagnant," she said. "Research changes on campus, and our services change, but the (orientation) of being a partner and support for research is not ending for libraries."
For the Makers' Space, library officials said they get contacted regularly by potential users.
"Word is definitely out," Panitch said.
In addition to Martin's work with the printer, two instructors used the 3-D printer to create molecular models for students.
Bailey Peck, a doctoral candidate in genetics and molecular biology at UNC-Chapel Hill, said she and a lab mate made models for an introductory bioinformatics course held in April as part of a program designed to equip students for careers in biomedical research.
Part of the course involved the use of a computer program to visualize and analyze protein structures. They printed molecular models to make the shapes more accessible to students, particularly for a blind student.
It took about 10 hours of printing. She said the students found it "cool and exciting," although the student they intended the model for thought it could have been bigger.
"(Some) students, depending on how they learn, find it more hopeful to hold (something) rather than just to look at a computer screen," she said.
Peck said in an email it's an "awesome resource" for instructors trying to make classroom activities more accessible for students with different learning styles or disabilities. And she said 3-D printing technology could have other applications for researchers to make their work more efficient, designing new devices or research tools.
"I think it'd be awesome to use just for my own research," she said.
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