Can 3D Printing Take Us Back to Our Roots?

In a moving introduction to his March 2014 TED talk on all things 3D printing, 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental pays tribute to his grandfather, a cobbler who perished in the Holocaust. Although Reichantal never met his grandfather, the older gentleman’s love of craft was a legacy he imparted to his yet-to-be-born grandson.

True to his DNA, the grandson is now pioneering new ways to apply 3D printing technology to products and devices that are designed for beauty, function and individual tastes. Reichental points out that 3D Printing allows us to “emotionally reconnect with [our] symmetry” in a way that mass-produced goods are hard-pressed to do.

What’s touching about Reichental’s story is his passion for being a self-described ‘maker of things.’ (Remember Julia Roberts’ ‘Vivian’ in Pretty Woman, asking billionaire Edward [Richard Gere]: “So you don’t make anything? You don’t build anything?”) Clearly, Reichental takes pride in crafting beautiful and useful items with the same tender care that his grandfather did so many years ago—this time, with a 21st century craft. But the reward does not end when the product is finished. Reichental also gets to experience the joy of watching his 3D printing innovations change lives.

Granted, many 3D printed experiments are just that—experiments. We are a long way off from integrating 3D printed output into our everyday existence. But technology often works like that. When people all over the globe are exploring an emerging technology, we can expect it to reach a critical mass, at which point the new technology will start showing up in our common experience. (Think vaccines, the Internet and cell phones.)

3D Printing—A Historical Thread

What if 3D printing can take us farther back than just a generation or two? In a science-fiction-like scenario, San Francisco Biotech startup Cambrian Genomics is using 3D printing technology to print DNA. While printing DNA isn’t new, the company has innovated a way to discard defective strands and keep the good ones. To put this in perspective, Scott Grunewald writes in the 3D Printing Industry April 10, 2014 online newsletter: “The DNA laser printer will produce more viable DNA in a single run than is produced in all of the machines in the entire world in a single year.”

3D printing DNA

3D printed DNA

One vision for this innovation (aside from designer genes and medical applications) is to explore the possibility of resurrecting extinct species, including dinosaurs. But not the dinosaurs we’ve read about in books. In theory, these dinosaurs will be genetically engineered to survive in previously uninhabitable places—like outer space.

Perhaps in the process, we will learn more about the ‘spark’ that brings something inanimate to life. But until then, we can at least watch companies introduce 3D printing technologies that are about to change the way we live very soon.

Mary Follin, Lehrmitt Design Studios

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