Making education: 3D printers bringing lessons to life

3D printers are increasingly finding their way into schools, with applications not just in traditional design subjects, but across the curriculum.

Speaking at Re.Work’s Future of Education event held yesterday in London, Paul Croft, director of 3D printing manufacturers Ultimaker, described how the company is working with schools to use 3D printing across subjects including history and engineering in both primary and secondary education.

However when the company first started working with schools, Croft found that the biggest challenge was not with the children, but in helping teachers to find effective ways to use the printers in lessons.

He explained that the majority of children understand the potential of the technology instantly, citing the example of one child who was reluctant to participate in most lessons, but who took it upon himself to design a 3D model for printing following a class featuring the printers.

Teachers, however, struggled to find uses for the machines, particularly when faced with high workloads from other teaching duties.

To resolve this issue Ultimaker decided to create a support site for education that includes a growing number of lesson plans for different subjects.

“We wanted to create something that’s unique and bespoke to the education sector,” explained Croft.

The company has recruited teachers and academics to provide lesson plans, and promises to grow the – admittedly small – selection.

Current examples including a guide for art teachers complete with a file to print the head of Michelangelo’s statue of David, and a lesson plan for Egyptian history that includes a printable 3D scan of an ushabti figurine from the National Museum of Cardiff.

Ultimaker’s approach to getting technology into schools seems increasingly typical in the potentially lucrative, but challenging to access, education sector.

While there are a wealth of technologies in development that could undoubtedly help students, unless the teachers are given support and resources to include these it would be unreasonable to expect them to have the time to master each technology themselves.

Many of the companies that are finding success appear to have some connection to education themselves, allowing them to appreciate the nuances of school budgets and teacher requirements to make their products work.

Ultimaker is no exception to this: Croft is one of the only members of his family who is not a teacher, and this connection has undoubtedly helped him get the printers into schools.

Whether they become a permanent feature of education, however, remains to be seen.

And baby makes four: How three-parent reproduction could eradicate disease

Within two years, the healthiest babies could be those born from three parents. Scientists have developed a new method of artificial insemination involving three parents that could prevent a variety of genetic disorders.

The method focuses on getting rid of genetic defects passed through the mitochondria, the energy-producing part of the cell passed only through the mother. These defects can cause diabetes, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy and many other disorders.

To eradicate these defects, scientists insert the nucleus of one mother’s egg cell, which may have defective mitochondria, into the egg cell of another mother, which has healthy mitochondria.

Thus, the process involves the eggs of two mothers and the sperm of the father, which fertilizes the egg cell.


This new method makes the already sensitive issue of artificial insemination even more controversial, as it presents a new way to pick and choose a baby’s genetic makeup. The current mitochondrial modifications, developed to improve the health of the offspring, will undoubtedly lead to worries of a future where such methods are used to create the “perfect” child.

However, it is important to keep in mind the benefits of this new reproductive development. About one in every 10,000 people is born with mitochondrial defects, and the physical problems that result from them can drastically impact a person’s quality of life.

It is no surprise, then, that some women with known mitochondrial defects choose not to have children. This new technology could help them have healthy families without the possibility of passing on flawed mitochondria.

Though the method does not present a cure for people already affected by these disorders, it could allow some parents to circumvent the hardships they cause.


Three-parent reproduction is still awaiting approval following a study at Vetmeduni Vienna that showed the possibility of trace amounts of defective mitochondria on the nucleus contaminating the egg with healthy mitochondria.

Sometimes these trace amounts are harmless, but if the mitochondrial types of the two mothers are very different from each other, the unhealthy mitochondria could grow enough to overtake the healthy egg, resulting in the same genetic defects the process is trying to prevent.

Scientists say that the problem can be avoided by analyzing the mitochondria of each mother and comparing them through alignment, ensuring compatibility.

If this solution proves sufficient and protestations do not hinder the approval process, babies with three parents and zero mitochondrial defects could become a reality by 2016.

Featured image and second body image courtesy of Cary and Kacey Jordan, first body image courtesy of BioMed Central Ltd.