Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The power of holding something in your hand

Our first cartoon model

Holding something in your hand can have a powerful effect. I hate to generalize based only on my experience, but it is my hypothesis. But, I am in good company Louis Agassiz the 19th Century naturalist said, "Go to nature; take the facts into your own hands; look, and see for yourself." In the photo is a "printed" model of a protein. I don't remember which protein, but that is not the point. The object pictured was directly fabricated from the collected data of the position of atoms in the molecule. It is rendered in "cartoon" format where the shape of the structure provides information about the structural nature of sequence presented. Anyone is able to hold onto this structure, spin it, see the relationships between to portiions of the structure, and stick a finger into the structure to literally get the feel of the stucture of a protein.

We have been making the models for about 5 years and have made them for researchers how use them to better explore the structures on which they work and share them with their peers and educators use them to teach college students, k-12 students, and the general public. And, we are not limited to building molecules. We have built models for physicians, engineers, artists, and designers. The common denominator being they have something to present that maybe significantly different to view and hold an object instead of viewing it in two dimensions on paper or a screen.

The "printer" that makes our models is not terribly common and the lowest priced version right now will cost you about $35,000, but their are models coming to market that will hit the sub-$5000 price point. They do not print in multiple colors, but they make a more durable model. I think we will come to a day where we create what we need when we need it and these fabricators will be very common, and it maybe here sooner than most of us think.

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