3D Printed Human BrainThe human brain is a fascinating organ and one of the most complex things known to mankind. In this 1500 gram organ, billions of nerve cells send thousands of connections to other cells making a total of approximately 300 trillion connections in an adult brain!

The nerve cells of the brain are collectively termed gray matter while all the connections between them form the white matter. Together the two matters make up the marvel of complexity that is our brain.

By successfully creating a model of the brain’s white matter through additive printing, Franklin Institute of Philadelphia has, on one hand, demonstrated the beauty and delicacy of the human brain and on the other affirmed that nothing is too complex for 3D printing.

A “Matter” of Beauty

This year, Franklin Institute intrigued the world with its innovative “Your Brain” Exhibition that contained novel objects based on the human mind. The center of attraction in the exhibition was a masterpiece of both science and art: A myriad of white strands, radiating gracefully in all directions, depicted the white matter of the human brain. These were illuminated by a faint light from beneath. However, what was really amazing about it was that the entire structure was 3D printed! Jaytari Das, the chief bio-scientist at the Franklin Institute, explains the idea in the following words:

“Our philosophy behind our exhibits is to make real science approachable through hands-on, engaging exhibits ….. The 2D images we had seen were really beautiful, so we thought that a large-scale 3D print would be perfect as an intriguing, eye-catching sculpture that would serve as both a unique design focus and a connection to research.”

Creating the Sculpture

Transforming the idea from concept to reality was, however, no easy task. For this, Franklin Institute contacted Dr. Henning U Voss, Associate Professor of Physics in Radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. To create a detailed 3D model of the white matter, Dr. Voss started with an MRI scan of a 40-year-old man. This gave him the data required to create the brain sculpture. However, the resulting design was so complex that it was hard to even open the data file let alone print it.

So, for the printing, several 3D printing firms were contacted but all of them rejected the project calling it too complex since the model required more than 2000 strands of white matter printed and arranged precisely into a single piece. Donna Claiborne, the project manager at the Franklin Institute, recalls:

“Everyone told us it was way too complex to handle on a 3D printer. We were surprised because everything we knew about 3D printing said that it was good with complex shapes.”

Brain Matter Model PartsFinally, Direct Dimensions, a 3D printing firm at Owing Mills, Maryland accepted the project, despite its immense complexity.

The firm, in turn, partnered with American Precision Prototyping (APP) for the project.

Selective Laser Sintering, a type of additive printing in which layers of plastic are fused using a CO2 laser, was chosen since it is perfect for delicate and fragile objects like the white matter model.

The major challenge they faced was that the model was 26 inches long while the printers they had couldn’t print objects greater than 18 inches in length. To solve the problem, they divided the whole model into ten parts to be printed separately and joined later. The Art Director at Direct Dimensions, Harry Abramson, explains:

“Fortunately Dr. Voss provided an amazing data set for us to start with. In order to print this at large scale, each of the thousands of strand models would have to be fused to create a single brain model that could then be sliced into printable parts that fit in the build envelope. The whole model would then need engineering and design modifications to ensure that it could be assembled precisely and support itself on its custom mount.”

The whole process of designing and customizing the model took several weeks of tireless work. Finally, it was time to print the pieces. It took around 20 hours to print each of the 10 parts of the model. As soon as they came out, they were mapped and joined together to form the whole sculpture. Jason from APP says about the project:

“It was a lot of work for all the teams, but we all knew from the first part that this was going to be stunning. It is a perfect example of the power of 3D printing and we were glad to be a part of something so powerful.”

The white matter model now stands as the main attraction in “Your Brain” exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. A video of the exhibition can be found on Franklin Institute’s Vimeo Channel.

An Age of Printed Art

We’ve seen several projects in the past that have attempted to merge additive printing with art: Scott Camazine’s Printed Skulls, Stilnest’s Cuckoo Clock and the art of Failed Printed Designs are only few such projects.

Franklin Institutes Brain ModelHowever, what we see here with Franklin Institute’s white matter model is something special.

A single look at it immerses us into the delicacy and the complexity which our brain holds.

The effect is enhanced because of the beauty that the sculpture emanates. At the same time, it is a marvel of engineering.

One of the most complex objects to ever be 3D printed, it clearly shows the true utility of 3D printing: Bringing the most complex objects from imagination to reality. No other manufacturing method can claim this. It is clear that as our things will become more and more complex, the only manufacturing method we’ll have is additive printing.

The white matter sculpture standing at Franklin Institute is a testimony; a testimony to the fact that our future will be both very beautiful and very complex and that additive printing will help us attain that future.

What are your thoughts about Franklin’s Institute white matter model? Do let us know in the comments section. Also, share it with your friends and then feel free to download our FREE Beginners Guide to 3D Printing at Home eBook.


New Makerbot ThermocouplerIn my last few Beginner Series blog posts I may have mentioned once or twice that it looked like my thermocoupler was dying a slow death. Well, I was right.

After logging a support ticket with MakerBot I received a reply quite promptly.

The email was very detailed and explained a few things to try, basically checking the thermocoupler looked ok at both ends.

I checked the circuit board end and the connections were secure. When I checked the extruder end the wire was bent at 90 degrees which apparently isn’t good.

After gently straightening it my temperature readings from that moment on just showed ‘NA’. At least I’d found the problem, but I had finished off my dying thermocoupler in the process.

MakerBot told me I needed a new thermocoupler and that they would send me one immediately free of charge. So far so good and to my surprise it arrived within a few days. Bearing in mind I live in the UK and it was sent direct from the USA I thought that was pretty good.

Fitting a New Thermocoupler

MakerBot sent me more detailed instructions on how to replace the thermocoupler so I read them ahead of my receiving it so I knew in advance what to expect. It looked quite a simple process and when the new part arrived I set about following them.

To be honest I fitted the new thermocoupler in about 30 minutes and with no problems at all. One thing to note though is that the wire on the new thermocoupler was thicker and tougher looking than the old one (not a bad thing).

However, the nut at the end needs about 10 turns to screw it into the hot end of the extruder. With the wire being stiff it’s tricky to twist it this amount of times, but I had a solution…

I twisted the wire 10 times anticlockwise before screwing the nut into the hot end. What this meant was that the thing pretty much screwed itself in as the wire untwisted and it just required a little tightening with some pliers.

This method also meant that when the nut was screwed in fully the wire was no longer twisted as it had untwisted as I screwed it in. Made sense to me and I can highly recommend this method.

We don’t want overly twisted or sharply bent wires anywhere on our 3D printers because they’re bad news and end up in wires breaking over time, especially with all the moving parts putting pressure on the wires anyway.

With the new thermocoupler temperature readings were now back to normal. I’ve seen no more heating errors so far and I was back up and running again, or at least I thought I was…

Cooking the Nozzle

MakerBot in PiecesAfter a few small test prints, the usual comb and nut/bolt that comes preloaded on the MakerBot SD card, I had another attempt at the Emmets Gear Bearing. Click the link and you can see a picture of some of last weeks failed attempts.

This print has failed over and over for me and I really must be on my tenth attempt by now, but I cannot give up. Well, it failed again, twice, with extrusion stopping after anywhere between a few minutes and an hour, every time.

Incidentally while writing this it’s literally just failed AGAIN, with the stepper motor clicking implying a blockage. More on this in a second.

As you can imagine I’ve been getting pretty annoyed with this by now, especially after I’ve just had the thing apart and fitted a new thermocoupler.

If there was a partial blockage in the nozzle I needed to take drastic action, so long story short, I removed the nozzle and cooked it, heating it in a gas flame until the PLA plastic burned away.

I’d heard of people doing this quite successfully to clear a blocked nozzle and it worked quite well for me, as I could see though the 0.4mm nozzle hole and it was now perfectly clean.

Unfortunately this didn’t solve the problem and as I mentioned a minute ago my Nth attempt at the gear bearing has failed again. I’m almost out of ideas with this but I’m just going to try printing something else because it may have something to do with the nature of what I’m printing.

Watch this space because although I’m almost out of ideas I will solve it. I’ll keep you informed of how this issue unfolds.

Copper Plating Progress

Although I have bigger 3D printing issues to resolve right now, I have been looking into different ways of a producing better finish on my prints (the ones that work) and have been investigating copper plating.

RustOleum Copper SprayI have attempted to do a little brush plating on some coins I have. Using copper sulphate, a small power supply and some cotton buds I have managed to plate some coins.

What’s strange is that the plating looks ok, but occasionally a big black patch appears which isn’t so great.

This may be a number of things and I’ll continue to investigate this to achieve a better finish. The voltage might be too high because I’m using 12 volts, I will try lowering it and report back.

Many people seen to have great success with decent copper spray paint. Although this can’t be as good as copper plating it sure is easier and cheaper, so I’ve ordered some “Rust-Oleum Elegant Metallic Copper Spray Paint”. I’ll give this a try when it arrives. It might be great, or it might end up in the bin but again, I’ll report back on this with some pictures of items I’ve sprayed too.

New YouTube Channel

In my previous post in this series, I promised I’d put up a YouTube video of my first successful gear bearing 3D print. Well, as that hasn’t happened yet I decided to put on a video of my MakerBot in action, at least attempting to print one.

Here it is, my first ever video on our 3D Print HQ YouTube Channel. I’ve not uploaded anything to YouTube for years so I hope it looks ok?

Please let how it looks and I’ll use your feedback to post more videos on here, including the gear bearing in action (spinning freely) if and when I finally manage it.

Anyway, thanks for reading and as ever feel free to comment, like and share. It all helps me spread the word about the amazing (and sometimes frustrating) world of 3D printing.

Quickly before I go, I’m currently printing the LFS Elephant which I successfully printed a while ago. We’re 49 minutes in (59% complete) and it looks great. If it makes it to the end I’ll be celebrating :)

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iSense iPad 3D Scanner Available for Pre-Order

July 9, 2014

If you were impressed by the preview of the iSense 3D Scanner by 3D Systems at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), then you might just love to hear that the iSense scanner for iPadis is finally out and available for preorder. The iSense 3D Scanner has been designed as a compact device that [...]

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After my last article in this Beginners Series about elephants, rafts and apologies I thought things in my 3D printing world couldn’t get more diverse. Well, things have been equally mixed up over the last few days. Just read this title and you’ll see what I mean. So, time for some clarification and an explanation of [...]

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Elephants, Supports, Rafts, Errors and MakerBot Apologies

June 24, 2014

It’s been a busy few days here at 3D Print HQ. As the title suggests there’s been a mixed bag of things going on. Firstly I’ve been downloading and printing a few cool things from Thingiverse. Nothing too ambitious yet but I did print out some Nortilus Gears which were in four parts and needed fixing [...]

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UK Company Dovetailed Unveils Amazing 3D Fruit Printer

June 22, 2014

Recently, 3D printing has amazed the world by printing real edible foods. We’ve already told you about NASA’s 3D Printed Pizzas and a California couple’s Printed Sugar Sculptures. Today, we’re going to tell you about another very tasty invention: A 3D fruit printer. Coming from a UK Based Company Called Dovetailed, this printer is capable of [...]

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