SelfCAD is an online CAD and 3D design software

It uses latest JavaScript features. Please pick a newer browser. Examples are listen below.

How Universities Are Expanding 3D Printing Innovation

 |  Dorian Martin

How Universities Are Expanding 3D Printing Innovation

Researchers and students in universities are at the forefront of the world’s effort to use 3D printing to advance science and learning.

From printing small geological structures for geology classes to spacesuit production for Mars exploration, 3D printing becomes one of the most exciting technologies of 2021 you can follow, as people constantly find new uses for it. In this post, you’ll find how people are using this technology with five major use cases.

So, here we present several ways in which universities are in a leading position in the world when it comes to 3D printing innovation.

1. Terrain Printing in Geology

The researchers at Iowa State University have come up with a creative solution to teach geology - 3D terrain models. According to the university’s website, they were looking for a solution to visualize various geological forms that are often hard to describe in words.

Now, the students can print 3D plastic terrain models of any place on the planet, be it the Grand Canyon or the floor of the Pacific ocean. They use them in geology classes, which is a more powerful experience than studying a map or an image on a screen. 

Chris Harding, right, and Alex Renner, two geologists behind the 3D printing app at Iowa State. Credit: Iowa State University

“This could be a key element in improving how geoscience students connect with the surface structure of the Earth,” Iowa State’s University’s Press Service quoted Chris Harding, an associate professor of geology, as saying.

To make 3D printing easier for university users, a group of geologists has developed TouchTerrain. It’s an open-source web app that allows building printer-friendly models on a computer.

Using the app helps students to develop 3D visualization skills, which is an in-demand skill, with many successful freelancers working in the field.

2. Fossil Reproduction in Paleontology

Paleontologists are increasingly discovering the capabilities of 3D printing technology to make dinosaur fossil reproduction possible. Sterling Nesbitt and Christopher Griffin, two senior paleontologists from Virginia Tech, are a perfect example.

The two scientists have been reproducing fossils of the rarest dinosaurs to share with other universities to help them in paleontology research. In one project, the scientists have scanned the bones of a rare unnamed dinosaur they discovered on a dig in Africa.

Sterling Nesbitt and Max Ofsa, two paleontologists who use 3D printing at Virginia Tech University. Credit: Virginia Tech

To ensure quality reproduction, they cleaned the bones and scanned them with 3D scanners. Later, the scans were shared with others and printed out for Virginia Tech research studies. The high quality of the print allowed them to achieve impressive forms, including recreating the precise shape of the brain with skull cavities.

This way, the 3D printing technology makes valuable ancient life form samples globally available and advances research. Thanks to effective business communication and collaboration, an international network of organizations sharing 3D samples and research might soon become a reality.

3. Face Shield Production for Healthcare Workers

Post-COVID business environment might look differently not only for companies but healthcare institutions that found one more way to serve clients: 3D printing of medical supplies.

As the worldwide coronavirus pandemic continues, universities are joining the effort with healthcare institutions to help front-line workers. This time, they use in-house 3D printers to produce face shields - an additional individual protection tool.

The list of institutions involved in the production effort includes Florida State, Michigan State, Rutgers, the College of Engineering, and many others. Florida State, for example, has already produced thousands of shields (see below) for local hospitals. 

A face shield produced by a 3D printer at Florida State’s College of Communication, Architecture, + The Arts (CARTA). 

One major advantage of face shields is their reusability. Healthcare workers can clean them without damaging the plastic, and considering the current shortage of medical protective equipment, reusing plastic shields makes a lot of difference for the overburdened healthcare system.

4. Polymer Spacesuit Production for Astronauts

Spacesuits are essential for human space exploration but also extremely expensive. Building one from scratch cost up to $200 million, which resulted in a major shortage. Unsurprisingly, researchers are looking for solutions to reduce the high cost, and 3D printing is a part of the effort. 

NASA has been giving grants to universities in North America to help with the research. The University of South Dakota is one of the latest institutions to join and receive a $750,000 grant. The group of researchers there is working on using 3D printing to design a polymer-based spacesuit prototype. 


The spacesuit design could be converted into a polymer-based one using 3D technology. Credit: Pablo De Leon, the University of South Dakota

The researchers have been working on creating a prototype that could be built with 3D printing. According to their statement, the purpose is to build a pressurizable spacesuit using mostly 3D printing, which astronauts will be able to produce on Mars. 

With the deadline for reaching Mars set as early as the 2030s, researchers around the world have about a decade for this ambitious project. If all goes well, we should see many private companies creating business plans and getting into 3D printing for space exploration. 

Ultimately, 3D printing can become a go-to technology for spacesuit production that will significantly reduce the multimillion-dollar price tag. 

5. Low-Cost Prosthetic Devices

Accidents, illness, and war cause thousands of people around the world to lose a hand or a finger. Accessing affordable and quality prosthetic devices is often a problem, especially for people living in developing countries with limited healthcare. 

Many universities are attempting to fill this gap by using 3D printers to make low-cost and free upper-limb devices for children and adults. A group of students from the Upstate Medical University in New Jersey, for example, has created a prosthetic hand model from PLA plastic, the cost of which is only $20.

A prosthetic hand model created at Upstate Medical University. Credit: Upstate Medical University

Zach Visco, one of the students leading the project, says they can manufacture all parts needed for a single model in just 16 hours.

Other parts include a fishing line, wooden screws, and Velcro straps. All these parts can be printed out or are widely available. So replacing a broken part is much easier compared to traditional models made of titanium or ceramics.


Many universities around the world are using 3D printing technology in healthcare, geology, paleontology, and even space exploration. In the process, they’re reducing the cost of expensive medical devices, making research more accessible, and transforming the studying experience.

In the future, we should see more educational organizations joining the effort. More uses of 3D printing will also be discovered to help people in various areas.

‚ÄčEnjoy powerful modeling, rendering, and 3D printing tools without the steep learning curve.

Try SelfCAD

Need to learn 3D Modeling? Get started with interactive tutorials.


Dorian Martin is a content writer and consultant for educational blogs. Currently, he works with GetGoodGrade research paper writing service. Throughout his career, he served as a writer and proofreader and worked with experienced copywriters and bloggers. Dorian regularly speaks at content workshops where he shares content and SEO tips with colleges and universities. 

Was this blog post interesting or helpful?