Ryerson University Professors Teach Students About Water by 3D Printing It

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[Image: Claire Oswald]

Water is ephemeral. You can’t grasp it in your hands; even its frozen form melts away before long if it’s touched. There’s a proverb about not being able to step into the same river more than once, which is true: water is constantly moving, changing, merging into new forms. That’s why water pollution can be one of the hardest environmental concerns to address. It’s not always visible; at times, a badly polluted river can look so crystal clear and lovely that it’s hard to believe it’s full of toxins. Moreover, most bodies of water are too large to be seen in their entirety, so it can be hard to visualize them, let alone their trouble spots.

Ryerson University professors Claire Oswald and Claus Rinner have come up with a novel way to teach their students about local watersheds and the problems that they face. Working with Ryerson-affiliated 3D printing company Think2Thing, they’ve begun 3D printing scale models of Toronto watersheds, so that their students can actually hold the bodies of water in their hands. So far, they’ve printed every watershed in the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

“The reason that we’ve been doing these 3D printings is that we think that they might be really useful for helping people understand…some issues that our watersheds are having and also to point out some environmental stewardship opportunities,” Oswald said.

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The two professors used the printers at Toronto Reference Library’s Digital Innovation Hub to print out their first model, a 3D elevation model of the Don River. The river, which empties into Lake Ontario, is a vital watershed in the Toronto region, and the biodegradable PLA model that Oswald and Rinner created shows not only its shape but its currents and surface variations. Students can run their hands over its surface, seeing and feeling its textures and waves.

watershed 2Oswald and Rinner have also enlisted undergraduate students from Ryerson’s Geographic Analysis and Environment and Urban Sustainability programs to help with the year-long printing project. The students, having studied the models themselves, are now using the models and data they’ve gathered to teach local high school students about the urban water cycle and how they can keep their local watersheds healthy.

Ryerson Urban Water, a university collective of which Oswald is a member, does a lot of educational outreach programs aimed at teaching students about water and how urban water cycles work. RUW manager Angela Murphy has found that visual, hands-on learning is most effective in getting students to understand and engage in the subject of water.

“Most of the RUW folks that have bridged out to different schools have done so in very illustrative, practical ways,” said Murphy. “If there is a pond or a creek behind the school, that’s kind of the focal point where they begin the discussion and in other cases, they take things with them like watershed models, and that’s where the example of a 3D model was very useful.”

After taking a 3D printing course and printing their initial model at the Toronto Reference Library, Oswald and Rinner have been using Think2Thing’s printers to continue their project. Currently, they are working on a larger, more high-definition model of the Don River, which will include color overlays to illustrate different land uses. Have you ever seen anything similar to this? Tell us in the 3D Printed Water Bodies forum over at 3DPB.com.

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[Source: The Eyeopener / Images: Claire Oswald, Claus Rinner]

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