Professor Creates 3D Printed Volcanoes to Help Populations Prepare for Disaster

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volcano terrain projectNatural disasters are inevitable in most parts of the world. Thankfully, with increasingly sophisticated technology, we are more equipped to minimize damage and avoid loss of life than ever before. Through 3D printing, Geological Society of America volcanologist Dr. Ian Saginor has made it his mission to prepare people as much as possible for that most terrifying of natural disasters: volcanoes. An associate professor at Keystone College in La Plume, PA, Saginor has partnered with paper-based 3D printer manufacturer Mcor Technologies to create innovative 3D printed volcano hazard map models through the Volcano Terrain Project, which we first saw back in February. He then takes these models to the most vulnerable populations to show them what an eruption near their homes might look like – and how they might prepare for it.150313Turrialba1-1000x647

While 2D maps and 3D digital images have been used for a while to illustrate the potential damage of volcanic eruptions, a 3D printed model enables precision that its predecessors lack. A miniature scale model of a region that includes detailed topography can present a much more concrete idea of, for example, the course that a flow of ash and lava will take, by printing ash and lava in the modeled valleys. Saginor discovered just how accurate his models were when he designed shadows in the terrain, then realized that there was no need; the shadows were already there, naturally created in miniature. A person holding a model of their hometown has a birds-eye view of their surroundings, and can much more clearly see where danger may come from.

“There’s an unmet need in geosciences to use 3D printing,” says Saginor. “Two-dimensional hazard maps can show people where the danger is, but a 3D printed model can show them why.”

Turialba-Full-Color-300x224Saginor and his colleagues have tested their idea by taking their 3D printed models to some of the populations most vulnerable to volcanic catastrophe. He presented his model to the students and teachers at Hernán Vardas Ramírez elementary school in Juan Viñas, near the Turrialba volcano in Costa Rica. After receiving a brief lesson in volcanology, the students were given the opportunity to study the 3D printed model along with the older 2D maps and digital models. A survey given after the lesson showed that 100% of respondents agreed it was easier to find their locations on the 3D printed model than on the 2D map. 95% stated that if given the opportunity, they would take a 3D printed model home to educate their own families.

students with turialba model

Costa Rican students look at the 3D printed model of Turrialba

The models were printed with the Mcor IRIS, a full high-definition-color, paper-based 3D printer that boasts affordability and eco-friendliness, along with superior photorealism. For Saginor, who hopes to have 100-200 volcano models printed per year, cost-effectiveness is key. He and his colleagues are planning more trips to educate those in volcano risk zones.

“There’s an unmatched value in holding a realistic model in your hands,” Saginor says. “I’ll print as many as I can possibly get in order to effect change.”

If you’d like to help effect change, you can donate to Saginor’s project at his GoFundMe site. Let us know if you’re interested in the 3D Printed Volcano Models forum thread over at 3DPB.com.

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