Taalman Talks: What's Going On With 3-D Printing?

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There is no end in sight for 3-D printing. If you have a laser, some plastic, and a lot of creativity, you have a mathematical goldmine.


This is a "print-in-place" fidget cube Laura printed, which came out in one piece with closed hinges. If I knew the equation here, I would write it out--but I think this is more impressive!

Laura Taalman, our co-author of Calculus, prints a lot every day. I can relate as someone who works in publishing, but only to an extent – she’s actually printing things, pieces of plastic that are real mathematical equations or manifestations of theories she studies all day long. She tells me how curious she is “to take a concept, make it into a digital file, and then turn it into a real thing.” Her focus has been in knot theory, the study of knots and how their curves can be observed better than tying ends of rope together. With 3-D printing, she can actually zoom in and out on how the coordinates connect in each piece of plastic. She can also make a pretty convenient hammer. It really depends on the day!

Even though this started out as a joke, Laura used some pennies in plastic to play with weight, and see how much heavier she could make an object.

penny hammer total.jpg

She also taught a class in 3-D printing at James Madison University, and it was a huge hit. You know how people believe they are in one column of two types: Good At Math and Bad At Math? (I’ve always shuffled my feet in the latter column). Because of this, Taalman believes a class like this could really shift a student’s perspective. She wants her kids to learn on their own, and to realize mathematics is “a work in progress.” It also taught them how to make a modular ukulele and a fully-functioning Ferris wheel, she cites as two different students’ class projects.

She says: “It’s a great way to teach and see how things go, and to have an actual thing in front of you. It’s also a good way to talk about failure – the thing I tried to make didn’t work, so how can I improve or fix it?”

If kids can learn mathematics and other uses with 3-D printing, one can guess how popular this technology will grow inside and outside of education. Taalman reminds me that regular printers used to be huge (like prototypical 3-D printers), but now they’re obviously ubiquitous. Which begs the question: what are people going to build and create with 3-D printing when it becomes more accessible?

Share below: what would you print if you had the chance?

About the Author
I'm a New Jersey native who likes to talk and write about all things weird and cool.