Taken by surprise by the Sheffield University
alumni team at the Gibson virtual reality suite
that they helped to fund!
Three 3D printing (3DP) is revolutionising manufacturing. It was during a visit to the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre that Professor Keith Ridgway first made me aware of the power of the concept, which involves the systematic deposition of layers of material, in response to a digital design, to build an object. On the same visit, I was also introduced to the power of virtual reality in working with three dimensional objects from jet engines to protein molecules. A year later my colleagues and I raised funds to install a similar projection system into the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at Sheffield (top left). The room was subsequently opened by Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath, in honour of the Department's second Head (after Sir Hans Krebs), Professor Quentin Gibson, FRS (1918-2011). The ability to visualise the oxygen binding site of Haemoglobin and watch as the protein's iron centre, attached via a Porphyrin Ring responds in conformational terms provides students and staff with huge insight into Biomolecular interactions, something I am sure Quentin would have loved!
|Quentin making, fixing, |
but always thinking!
The powerful visualisation of objects in three dimensions is a great way to provide young scientists with a deeper appreciation of the molecular process that underpin life. However, I was recently persuaded by my physics graduate, George Rule, who helps me in the Innovation Labs here at the UTC,to obtain a 3D printer in order to generate molecular models to aid in the teaching of Molecular Biology. Printing DNA duplexes and scale models of bacteriophage particles proved a real success in explaining to the students (ranging from 14-19) the principles of molecular structure and function. However, I remembered my AMRC visit and the impression left, together with something Quentin told me when I visited him shortly before he died in New Hampshire, USA. When I sought his advice on making your way in Biochemistry he gave me the following answer. If you are trying to solve a problem and you are limited only by money for staff and resources, but not by intellect and determination, then you can still be innovative if you build an instrument that measures an important property of a molecule or cell, that nobody else can (that's Quentin top right, still making things while in his early '90s!). In other words, one way to be a successful scientist, is to incorporate a level of design and manufacturing into your laboratory programme. This is where 3DP comes in.
Mini-racking system to hold
Pasteur pipette columns
You may have read recently about the publication of a paper that describes the fabrication of a powerful microscope using paper, a small battery and a cheap lens by Professor Manu Prakash . In his work Prakash reminds us that scientific breakthroughs do not always rely on high end, specialised instrumentation (which incidentally usually come in at a high cost in terms of both purchase and maintenance). By embedding 3DP into a contemporary Molecular Biology laboratory, I believe a new generation of scientists will flourish using Quentin's guiding principle. Let me give you some examples of how we are following this concept at the UTC.
My own interest in teaching commercial aspects of Science (Molecules to Market courses) from GCSE to PhD, led me to assemble a group of Y12 students interested in the technical side of Science, to form Greenland Biodesign (an in-house organisation at the UTC, taking its name from the UTC's location on Greenland Street and the students' own idea, since Biotech was taken!).The students have interests ranging from general Biology, Biochemistry and Genetics through to Chemistry, Physics and computer aided design. In between formal classes, the Greenland Biodesign (Web site coming soon!) team are working on individual, basic and applied science projects, but are also driving the organisation of the large scale experiments (100 students) that we carry out weekly in the Innovation Labs. The first UTC project that combines custom manufacturing via 3DP is partly funded by the Royal Society and involves the development of the Mealworm Beetle (Tenebrio molitor above right) as a "School Friendly" model organism. The aim is to develop Biochemical resources (Proteomics, Genomics and Transcriptomics) and methods for illustrating Biological phenomena from Developmental Biology to the molecular basis of enzyme catalysis.
|Greenland ice breaker|
|3D printed objects used |
in Science education
We are fortunate that we have equipped the lab with simple, but versatile bench top items
|Greenland gel formers|
|Greenland freezer racks|