Student showcases 3-D printer to Keefe, students, encourages independent research

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Linda Smith, News Editor

Senior biochemistry major Justin Samorajski showcased a 3-D printer he designed and built in a public presentation last month attended by University of Dallas President Thomas Keefe and a small group of students. The presentation, Samorajski’s second, was intended not only to demonstrate the fruits of his research and work but also to spur other students to conduct their own independent research.

Justin Samorajski smiles with President Thomas Keefe, who is holding a scale model of the Braniff Tower created by Samorajski’s 3-D printer at a public presentation last month.

At the presentation, Samorajski printed an exact 2.5 percent scale model of Braniff Memorial Tower, “one of the pieces that [he is] most proud of.” It was too large for the printer, so he printed it in separate pieces and put them together, later presenting it to Keefe.

Keefe found the presentation fascinating, telling those present that he was “very interested in seeing how this project progresses.” He also talked about involving other departments, such as the philosophy department, in discussing the moral and ethical ramifications of 3-D bioprinting.

Senior Spencer Sayre found the presentation “impressive, informative and fun,” as he was able to see not only the work put into the printer by the students, but also the support from the university.

“It was impressive because the 3-D printing project is not something one would normally think about in connection with UD,” Sayre said. “It was most impressive that a student accomplished that project of his own accord and that UD has become more willing to broaden its horizons and support the hard sciences and research publicly and financially.”

According to Samorajski, a 3-D printer is “essentially an object printer.” A regular printer is a 2-D printer with an X and a Y plane, meaning that “the paper feeds in one direction and the printer head moves perpendicular to that direction,” as Samorajski said in an earlier interview. A 3-D printer has X and Y planes, but it also has a Z plane that enables it to “move forwards and back, left and right, and up and down.” It also uses plastic instead of ink when printing. The plastic is fed through the printer head and is heated up until it melts. It is then pushed through a nozzle that is placed at specific X, Y and Z coordinates. It is essentially like a robot, reading many lines of code to come up with the intended object.

Belts and pulleys connected to the motors allow the printer head and the print plate (seen on the bottom) to move during the printing process. The spool behind the printer feeds plastic into the printer head where it is melted and deposited on the print plate. The finished part appears in the middle of the print plate.

Samorajski took an interest in 3-D printing when he first learned about this technology after returning from his Rome semester last May. Samorajski decided to design and build his own 3-D printer while doing research in biochemistry at Johns Hopkins University later in the summer, an idea that resonated with his research experience the summer before at the California Institute of Technology.

“From my experiences at Caltech and Johns Hopkins, I felt as though a 3-D printer would be a great tool for a scientific researcher to use. I also feel as though 3-D printing may become a more common household item that everyone could have access to,” Samorajski said. “With these thoughts combined, I figured that learning about and exploring this technology in its infancy would be very beneficial.”

Though not required as a biochemistry major to do a senior project, Samorajski wanted to pursue his interest with an independent research project that would be a part of his undergraduate studies at UD.

“I approached Dr. Olenick in the physics department because a project like this would encompass robotics, electronics, 3-D modeling, computer programming and engineering – all topics which relate in some way to physics,” Samorajski said. “The physics department was very interested and asked me to put together a proposal for the project. After the proposal was approved, I received the necessary funding needed to complete the project.”

The project completed, Samorajski gave his first public presentation of it to visiting families at this year’s Family Day. Samorajski asked to hold another presentation to share with UD students not only what he created, but the idea that other students can and should take on similar projects.

“The more people who know about the 3-D printer, the more mainstream the technology becomes,” Samorajski said. “I also wanted to encourage other students to work towards individualized research projects and independent studies. Because UD is a small school, there may be limited opportunities to take classes which are particularly interesting to you, but there is always the option to create your own independent study in order to explore a new area of interest which otherwise might have been inaccessible.”

Samorajski also hopes that the administration will take note of the project and encourage similar action in the future.

“It’s great to make something novel and interesting, but if no one knows about it then how will it benefit the university?” Samorajski asked. “If the administration knows about these projects, it will create more awareness and hopefully create the possibility of catalyzing future research projects.”

Louis Hannegan and Rob Sherron contributed to this report.

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