STEM activities in the introductory laboratory setting provide a valuable opportunity to engage students in high-impact learning experiences that challenge active learners. Instrumentation provides an opportunity to investigate fundamental physical phenomena and important mathematical relationships within an applied and relevant context. However, given that only one instrument is often available for a class, students get little hands-on time for analysis. Furthermore, commercial instruments are engineered to give “push-button” convenience. Much of the inner workings are shrouded and final data values are delivered after pressing a button or two. Additive manufacturing offers an inexpensive and innovative solution to this educational challenge.
The recent and accelerating advances in computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing methods provide access to innovative approaches in the development of new educational tools for laboratory-based STEM learning. While much has been accomplished in developing low-cost scientific instruments using children’s building blocks and household items, greater access to 3D printing via community makerspaces and university fabrication centers allows educators to transcend the limitations of conventional tooling. Although this evolving technology offers great potential, the barrier to entry is often intimidating for those unfamiliar with CAD software and fabrication equipment. The work presented here applies 3D printing in an effort to provide simple and inexpensive new tools for engaging students in the exploration of instrument design and performance. Now, each pair of students is provided with a 3D printed instrument kit, which must be assembled, tested, and calibrated. Student construction of functional instrumentation is an effective way to assist active learners in discovering the technology and fundamental principles of analysis. This method of avoiding the “black box” perception of instrumentation is a cornerstone of the STEM activities presented here.
Interested attendees will be provided access to a free, user-friendly set of computer-aided design (CAD) models and stereolithography (STL) files for the production of simple and inexpensive 3D printed analytical instruments. These designs allow high school and undergraduate educators to provide STEM learners with tools for constructing instruments in activities aimed at exploring the technology and fundamental principles related to laboratory analysis. The digital models described here are flexible in design, printed quickly, and each requires less than a dollar’s worth of plastic filament. Once printed, the resulting instruments perform very well when compared to commercially available tools.