3D-Printed Models of Soil Creatures Debut at State Fair

Aug. 11, 2016

HUNTINGTON — Bright-colored creatures that were designed and 3D Printed at the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI) will make their debut at the West Virginia State Fair.

Representing microorganisms that live in the soil, the models are part of the Soil Tunnel Trailer, a project of the Capitol Conservation District in partnership with the West Virginia Conservation Agency. The trailer – built through grant funding – will serve as mobile learning unit where children and adults will learn about the soil, water and agriculture.

The trailer will be unveiled at the West Virginia State Fair, Aug. 12-21 in Fairlea, near Lewisburg.

The microorganisms printed at RCBI are the tardigrade, protozoa, pseudomonas, radiolarian, giardia protozoa, nematode and ribosome. The models are far larger than the creatures themselves. For example, the model of the tardigrade is scaled up about 3,000 times.

“We’re excited to participate in the State Fair by contributing customized, 3D Printed organisms,” said Charlotte Weber, RCBI Director & CEO. “While the fair’s audience may expect to see common livestock, our larger-than-life soil creatures should encourage children and adults to take a closer look at microorganisms.”

As models, the microorganisms look a bit like movie monsters and are sure to catch the attention of visitors. That was the intention, said Aimee Figgatt, district manager of the Capitol Conservation District. She wants everyone to understand the importance of protecting the soil beneath their feet.

“Soil is not just dirt on the ground. It’s actually alive, and that really surprises people,” said Figgatt, who has been working on the trailer project since 2012. Figgatt said she wanted to incorporate 3D printing because she recognizes how it captures the attention of children and adults. She and her husband, an engineer, serve as mentors to a local robotics team.

“I wanted to include technology, in this case, 3D printing, because that is where education is going and that is what kids like,” she said.

She worked with RCBI on developing designs for the microorganisms, and then RCBI staff members printed them on different 3D printers. Inside the trailer, the models are in portals behind glass, giving visitors a sense of looking at the microorganisms through a microscope.