Tag Archives: Biohacking

Biology meets 3D Printing

Alan Amling

This week was filled with great guest lecturers. We got to hear from Alan Amling on UPS’s business model with 3D printing. UPS has included additive micro manufacturing which is essentially taking 3D printing factories and integrating them into their model. UPS currently has 23 makerbots for prototypes and models which are typically used by small businesses. They have done this to stay at the forefront of this disruptive technology and to fit demand manufacturing since people will soon be shipping and storing less, some of UPS’s main services.

Alan discussed two interesting usages for 3D printing. He mentioned how smaller factories are building parts , prototypes, and mass personalized goods. An example would be printing customized tools to prevent slippage and injury at the work place. Another example Alan used was Nike’s matrix structure sole being 3D printed for an exact fit. Later this year, they are going to use a scan for your foot ( measure weight, etc) and create a customized shoe.

Nike’s first 3D-printed football cleat prototype.

Dot Silverman

Our next guest lecturer was Dot Silverman, who introduced me to the topic of biohacking. The use of biohacking materials to create 3D structures, and using special bioinks made up of living cells to print messages and patterns. A product of biohacking may be seen below:

Human cells cultured into a decellularized apple slice (left) and an apple carved into an ear shape (right)

Fascinated by the human ear prototype, I looked into other Apple ears and found Pelling Lab’s creating them with existing 3D structure as a scaffold for cells. Andrew Pelling describes the process: “You slice an apple, wash it in soap and water, then sterilize it. What’s left is a fine mesh of cellulose into which you can inject human cells — and they grow.”

Pelling Lab’s “Apple ears” during the decellularization process.

Final Project

Additionally, my team is considering the incorporation of 3D printing into vertical gardens, window farms or urban farming solutions. I am drawn to this project because I believe that air pollution is a major problem and plants can assist with making the air cleaner. As a college student, I found it to be difficult owning and caring for plants with the limited backyard space and found window farms to be very appealing and manageable.  I would like to create a window farm that uses various sensors and a micro-controller to sense its environment and adapt accordingly.  I will have to do additional research to better understand window farms  if my team selects it for the final project.
Thank you for reading and see you next week!

Week 6

Required Readings:
This week’s readings pertained to keeping an open mindset when evaluating a project. In 10 Ways To Evaluate A New Business Idea, the author gives ten common questions and answers to note when judging a business prospect. His questions related to the entrepreneur’s dedication to the project, feasibility of the business, and the ability to assess future losses. This article taught me how to properly view a prospective business venture by injecting a healthy dose of skepticism. By playing devil’s advocate to your ideas, you can understand a different point of view and truly come to an understanding as to why your idea will succeed. I think this article would be best used at the inception of the idea and before speaking with investors. In Creative Sparks, Goldenberg, Mazursky, and Solomon discuss the unique nature of human creativity. I, however, disagree with their initial parameters. I do not believe that creativity has ever been or will ever be truly human. Recent discoveries have shown Neanderthals to be the first artists, but plenty of species before them invented creative survival tactics. Just as biological evolution has been creative, the evolution artificial intelligence has been demonstrably creative. Many of our modern artificially intelligent bots can write stories, draw art, and even compose music.
Guest Lecturers:
This week we welcomed two guest speakers, Alan Amling and Dot Silverman. Alan works in Corporate Strategy for the United Postal Service. Alan explained to us the disruption in the supply chain caused by 3D printing. I had the great pleasure of asking Alan a question about intellectual property laws at UPS. Alan told me that my question was very common for their 3D printing customers. Many entrepreneurs worry that their patents will not be protected in the era of 3D printing. Alan assured me that he and UPS were doing everything in their power to protect the rights of the entrepreneurs. He noted, however, that the possibility of their intellectual property being lost in the event of a data breach is possible and could occur in the future.
Our second guest speaker was Dot Silverman, a graduate student here at U of I. When she was attending Pomona College, she was introduced to 3D printing and loved the possibilities at her fingertips. Dot told us about her time at Autodesk and Instructables and passed around some of her most interesting creations. One creation, a light bowl, was made from mycelium. Mycelium, a fungus, holds the record for largest organism on Earth: 10 square kilometers in Oregon. I was intrigued by Dot’s foldscopes but didn’t get a chance to use them. Ultimately, I was intimidated by Dot’s presentation because I have a fear of artificial intelligence progressing to sentience and taking over the world. I think Dot’s biohacking is helping the AI reach the singularity.

A Swirl of New Ideas

UPS Speaker Takeaways:

This week we heard from 2 inspiring speakers on very different topics. The first was Alan Amling who works for UPS on their Corporate strategy and global on-demand manufacturing team. He gave us an interesting look into how UPS is shifting their business model and opening up new 3D printing labs to reach some of the products on-demand market. The part that I found most interesting about his talk was that unlike most of the other speakers we’ve heard from, he admitted that 3D printing is not going to single-handedly take over the world and revolutionize everything. Throughout each of the talks we’ve heard, I’ve had some skepticism about how fast 3D printing is going to take over manufacturing and the ability it has to completely replace certain processes. Alan compared the relationship between 3D printing and manufacturing to microwave ovens versus traditional ovens. When the microwave was first invented, many believed it would replace traditional ovens. It has not replaced traditional ovens however it has become a regular household device alongside the oven. This, Alan believes is exactly how 3D printing and manufacturing will become. 3D printers will become prevalent in most manufacturing processes however will not completely replace traditional manufacturing but rather complement it.

Additionally, Alan had an interesting comment stating that a device or process does not need to be everywhere or take over a space to revolutionize an industry. He brought up Ecommerce and retail discussing how currently Ecommerce accounts for only 9% of all retail however it has still completely revolutionized the way retail businesses operate. The last takeaway I got from Alan was to “Get on a fast-moving train, you’ll excel faster than your peers”. By this, he meant to learn the skills that are becoming more prevalent now before they are everywhere because that will only help excel our careers in the future, specifically this 3D printing course provides a unique skillset that is very marketable to future employers.

Biohacking Takeaways:

The second speaker was Dot Silverman who introduced us to the idea of Biohacking and several amazing projects and products currently on the market or in the works. One of the projects that she had worked with was a material from Ecovative that is a sustainable replacement for polystyrene. This material is grown from a combination of processed agricultural waste and mycelium which then is set in growth trays to grow and take the shape of the trays in which they are set.

This material is incredibly promising as it provides a compostable alternative to polystyrene which takes from 500 years-forever to break down according to this study on biodegradability https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1543-measuring-biodegradability. This idea was the most interesting to me as I care a lot about the waste created daily and finding sustainable substitutes to single-use everyday products.

Team Ideas:

Our team has been exploring various ideas for potential final products. For a while we were looking at 3D printing a map of the campus for DRES however this week, inspired by the speakers we decided to change topics and go in another direction. We are interested in exploring the capabilities of the Ecovative polystyrene substitute that Dot introduced and coming up with a common object replacement such as polystyrene coffee cups, plastic bags, or plates made out of this material.  The second idea we are exploring is the potential of using 3D printing on nails combined with a sustainable and healthier nail glue that would be more natural than current nails on the market today. A third idea we are currently discussing is participating in the “Growing Local Community” project led by Ultimaker (https://ultimaker.com/en/blog/52447-growing-local-community-project ) and incorporating the Mycelium material into our 3D printed garden design. We still have quite a bit of brainstorming and going discussing as a team however our goal for this week is to look further into each of these ideas and determine the most realistic and interesting route to take for our project.

UPS, Biohacking, & Final Project


Our class was spoiled this week with having two very influential people speak to our class. Our first speaker, Alan Amling, taught us about the advancements that UPS is making in the realm of 3D printing. Our second speaker, Dot Silverman, taught us about her work in biohacking and the exciting projects she is working on. During the second half of the class, we were able to meet with our teams to begin narrowing down our ideas for the semester project.


What is UPS Doing?

Alan informed us that UPS is taking major strides in utilizing 3D printing. The company has facilities that are capable of 3D printing on both the small and large scale. Alan mentioned that UPS’s Louisville, KY facility center can print something out by midnight and then be anywhere in the United States the next day. Such a capability is revolutionary for any company. Currently, it is common for consumers to have to wait multiple days before receiving an item they purchase. However, as more and more 3D printing facilities pop up throughout the country, it will be much more likely that future consumers can order custom 3D-printed products and expect to receive them the same day (maybe even within hours).

One of my biggest takeaways from Alan is the importance of consistency. It’s incredible that 3D printers can create almost anything, but Alan noted that if a company wants to be successful, then they will need to be consistent. For instance, many current manufacturing processes are standardized and effective enough to produce identical objects on a large scale. Since 3D printing technology is still relatively new, there are still areas in which errors are made (thus reducing consistency). Moving forward, I will remain conscious of these potential limitations of 3D printers, and I hope to play a part in identifying ways in which consistency can more likely be achieved at the industrial scale.


What is Biohacking?

Dot shared a bunch of exciting projects with our class in the realm of biohacking, which essentially is combining biology with making/3D-printing. One of Dot’s projects that stood out to me was one in which she had previously worked on a team that created human organs-on-chips; these chips emulate organ-level functions. What was really neat was that Dot and her team were able to combine a bunch of different organs-on-chips and connect them to simulate an actual human body. They then were able to simulate cocaine entering the body and the implications that it had on each organ. These devices (pictured below) may be a great alternative to animal-testing (which remains to be controversial among many consumers). Ultimately, these creations are extremely exciting and could lead to incredible breakthroughs in the medical industry.


Progress on Final Project

My group and I have narrowed down our list of final project ideas. Two of the ideas that I feel most passionate about are the creation of assistive devices for individuals with disabilities and a Neopixel Traffic Map. The types of assistive devices we are looking into are for individuals with limited motor-movements. For instance, individuals with arthritis may no longer be able to hold a pen like they used to. Such a disability can be devastating to many people as they may find joy in sending handwritten notes to their friends and family. 3D printing objects are able to extend an individual’s motor capabilities and increase precision. It would be neat for my group to talk with individuals who have arthritis/limited motor capabilities to understand what challenges they face most often in order to develop an all-in-one tool to help them navigate through their days more easily (see an example in the picture below). Another assistive device that we may look into printing would be wheelchairs, and you can learn more about this idea’s potential through one of my previous blog posts by clicking here.


The second idea that I find interesting is a Neopixel Traffic map (example pictured below). Essentially, we would be creating a way for a user to know the traffic conditions of a certain area before leaving their home/work. This would be accomplished through inserting LED lights into a picture map and connecting them to an Arduino board that would relay real-time traffic conditions via a paired Google Maps API (Application Program Interface). This project would involve us learning to code, working with API’s, and utilizing circuit boards–and we know we are up to the test!


Thank you

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. As mentioned, my team is finalizing our idea for our semester project, and I can’t wait to share with you what we end up deciding to pursue!


-Scott Provenzano