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Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholar Gives Compelling Speech on Impacts of 3D Printing

ST Medical Devices

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If you’re interested in keeping your fingers on the pulse of 3D printing and other technologies, sites like Reddit are a great place to watch and read—and you surely never know what you will see or learn there. What’s also very helpful is to check out new projects and details, as well as scoping out what discussions ensue, as those commenting often bring up very relevant concerns and issues, along with other relevant news in the 3D printing industry.

Currently, we’ve been looking at an inspiring video posted about 3D printing, featuring a medical student from South Africa currently doing his work for a Master’s degree at the University of Oxford. Although the event at which he gave his talk was meant as an avenue for allowing the scholars to practice their public speaking, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholar Rowan Nicholls gives a very compelling discussion on how 3D printing is impacting the world and specifically the medical field, discussing the technology and hardware itself along with all of the new techniques that are emerging.

UntitledInterestingly, the 3D printer which Nicholls has recently had experience with is not one that is actually owned by the University, where he is studying biomedical engineering, but was purchased by some of his peers.

“What you’re able to do is make pretty much any kind of shape–even if it can’t be traditionally manufactured–on this computer and then export it to the printer,” said Nicholls, pointing out that one can learn to design 3D models themselves or download from a popular repository.


“I found 25 websites that have thousands of designs that are pre-existing, and which you can download for free, and send it to your own 3D printer,” he said. “You can literally print anything, whether you design it yourself or not.”

Humor was present as well, as Nicholls joked that in light of being able to make ‘anything’ on his colleague’s printer, what did he make? The ubiquitous 3D printed keychain.


Examples of 3D prints that Nicholls did previously.

What, however, created the pull for Nicholls to the 3D printer, along with causing him to choose it as a topic for his public speaking event? Previously, he’d been involved in a program making prosthetics before coming to the University of Oxford. The team Nicholls had worked with had 3D printed numerous models for educational purposes, and he shares with the group some that he had actually fabricated. Of course, having experience in 3D printing and understanding the value of it for prosthetics helped greatly with allowing for an interesting speech.

Nicholls has more though, as in arriving at University of Oxford, he began working with colleagues involved in bioprinting, certainly advancing much further in the realm of 3D printing as they are fabricating ‘vessels’ to grow cells and more. Nicholls does point out also that there is a 3D printing lab with two printers, available to anyone at the University, and he shows in his visual demonstration how students have 3D printed models of anatomy, to include parts of the body like bronchii. They’ve also developed bronchoscopes and other tools, as well as printing an e-NABLE open source prosthetic hand that one student downloaded and actually gifted to an amputee in need.

The lab also has 3D scanners which Nicholls explains a bit about, while also stating that he found them rather difficult to work with, and prefers the 3D printing angle.

Outside of 3D printing in the university, the young engineer pointed out how many other amazing projects there are going on around the world, from the use of 3D printed models for practicing surgeries to the use of implants and scaffolds. Next, Nicholls covers a topic we’ve reported on recently regarding the fabrication of cartilage as well as research plans for offering transplants in the near future.

student workNicholls also, of course, discusses some of the most important breakthroughs in terms of bioprinting living cells and the strides toward making human organs. Referring to this as ‘breaking breaking news,’ he is right, and in this area breakthroughs are certainly exciting, and continual.

Concluding his talk with concerns about 3D printers and their recent bad—or questionable—press regarding environmental and toxicity issues, Nicholls states that those issues are being resolved. While it would seem that the conversation there is ongoing, and research is still underway, those concerns may not actually be completely resolved for some time, but with the advent of biodegradable filaments and processes for avoiding toxins and emissions in the air, certainly progress is being made.

The discussion is well very put together, succinct, and certainly would serve well for a group just being introduced to 3D printing. It’s of note as well that on the Reddit page where this was posted, quite a discussion sprung up regarding the pros and cons of 3D printing and how it may put many people out of business, from the highest to lowest rungs economically. Safety regarding materials is also discussed, along with how many materials simply are not high quality enough for numerous purposes, such as certain medical or automotive applications. Discuss this further over in the Nicholls 3D Printing Talk forum over at

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