The University of Wyoming art department now has its own ability to etch and print objects, and they’re willing to share.
Assistant professor Brandon Gellis came to UW for the fall 2015 semester and brought with him the skills and know-how to create a new makers lab, which opened in October.
“One of the big driving forces for me was setting up and better establishing art and science collaboration,” he said.
Creating the lab was not a cheap endeavor — Gellis received $20,000 for initial set-up.
“The funding has come from the research office as part of my start-up,” he said. “The space is primarily for art faculty and students, but I’m building it as a cross-pollination art and science facility. I’ve written a large (National Science Foundation) proposal, and I’ve applied for a variety of other sources to create a large visualization lab where we can work with the sciences as well.”
Gellis already put the seed money to use, purchasing three major pieces of equipment.
“We have two photo printers, an industrial laser cutter — we have a vinyl cutter and a 3D printer,” he said.
Working closely with professors and students in the sciences is a main goal of Gellis.
“We could help them create visualizations for publication or presentation purposes for, basically, equalizing the relationship between art and sciences,” he said. “We’re looking at creating some cross-divisional projects where science students work with art students and use the facilities to make scientific data tangible and more physical.”
Gellis is also looking for funding from science-based grants to grow his lab for science uses and already has his eye on some important equipment, such as a more precise laser printer that uses a pool of resin and a laser to create an object that slowly rises from the liquid, “like from Terminator,” he said.
A 3D scanner and a high-powered computer microscope are also on Gellis’ radar, although everything is dependent on funding.
“I’ll probably need about another $100,000 to really get it to what I’m hoping it will be in the next 2-3 years,” he said.
The laser cutter and etcher cost $12,000, Gellis said, but is almost in constant use said Lyn McDonald, a junior in graphic design and an intern at the lab.
“Once you learn the machine, you can help other students, and that was my main goal of being here,” she said. “I spend most of my time helping set up the machine — it can be finicky.”
The etcher can put almost any design on wood, plexiglass and regular glass, among other materials. The etcher is currently used to make book covers, Gellis said.
Since the laser can start fires if used incorrectly, it is always supervised by Gellis himself or students with specialized training.
The 3D printer can run without supervision, allowing for some of the long 9-hour projects to run overnight, such as high-definition pieces needed by some faculty, Gellis said.
“For scientific purposes, I have some colleagues who are anthropologists, and they look at the impact of human evolution,” he said. “We can 3D scan a tool that can’t be touched by students, fabricate it for them, and the students can use our tool to figure out how it was used by early man.”
Student workers are allowed to use the lab for any personal projects, and McDonald has begun putting some of the tools to the test.
“We printed out some motorcycle parts on the 3D printer like a license plate mount,” she said. “You can do anything on that, really. I’ve done some personal projects on the laser cutter, and really just experimenting with it and seeing what it can do.”
There are other benefits for McDonald than creating interesting pieces, though.
“I really want to have a well-rounded portfolio, and the lab gives me a great opportunity to do that,” she said.