22 August 2013

September Science Café-- 3D printers: The future of how we'll make stuff?

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s baaaaack!

If 3D printing intrigues you, don’t miss the season’s first Science Café — Tuesday, Sept. 3, from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. — when two 3D printing experts will show you what this new technology is all about. Later this semester, we’ll have cafés on Martian and moon meteorites, oil spills and Gulf of Mexico research.

David Brightbill sits beside his handmade 3D printer. David Brightbill sits beside his handmade 3D printer inside the Making Awesome warehouse. This year, the cafés have moved to the Backwoods Bistro, 401 E. Tennessee Street (near Leon High School). Scientists will encamp in the Bistro’s bright and roomy bar area, where family-friendly fare is available. The Bistro’s menu includes seafood, salads, pasta, pizza and vegetarian options.

At the September café, you’ll be able to watch two 3D printers in action and learn the different uses for this up-and-coming technology — which some predict may soon become the way we make and design just about everything. The printers you’ll see at the café use plastic to build an object layer by layer.

“Right now, 3D printers are being used by artists, by engineers and by people who want to make replacement parts — which is what we think is really going to kick these devices up into something that everybody wants,” said David Brightbill, one of two people who will speak at the MagLab’s 3D printing café.

Mark Trombly and two of the 3D printers he created.Mark Trombly and two of the 3D printers he created.

The reach of this technology is already spreading to laboratories, however, where “bioprinters” are being tested. Bioprinters use a liquid or gel containing living cells to assemble living tissue. And while the printing of living organs is said by many to still require at least a decade or more of research, one California company is already developing a printer to create liver tissue for drug testing.

Brightbill and fellow speaker Mark Trombly are both involved in Making Awesome, a community of people who share tools, materials and their talents. Working together, they help each other tackle projects that typically involve electronics, metal working, computers, robotics, 3D printing and more. The work gets done inside a rented warehouse, or makerspace, behind Tallahassee Community College. The 5,000 square foot warehouse is full of donated and rehabilitated equipment and tools.

“I call this a country club for geeks and nerds,” Brightbill said recently as he looked around at an assortment of tools organized into a wood-shop space, a machine-shop area, computer stations and more.

These plastic pieces were made by 3D printers.These plastic pieces, which feature the logo of Making Awesome, were made by 3D printers.Brightbill, a manager of research and development for the Florida Virtual Campus, has built his own 3D printer from a kit, and helped create others as well. Trombly, a senior network engineer with Technology Services Group, has also built (and is perfecting) his own 3D printers, using parts made from other 3D printers. Brightbill built his 3D printer for about $300 to $400, while Trombly spent about $1,000.

While the 3D printers made by Brightbill and Trombly use plastic to create objects, other types of 3D printers on today’s market use clay or metal. The size of the part that can be created is limited to the size of the printer. The printers these experts will have on hand at the café will be tabletop size.

Come join the MagLab’s first science café conversation, and bring your 3D printing questions. To find out more about this year's schedule of speakers, please visit our Science Café page.

To find out more about this year’s schedule, please visit our Science Café page.


The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.

Last modified on 15 July 2014