Studying Human DNA with Help from 3-D Printers

Students Psyched to Learn New Technology

Students Carsten Greene, left and Noah Korhorn examine a 3D printed DNA model

Noah Korhorn thinks working with 3-D printers, where hours of computer calculations become a three-dimensional reality, would make for a pretty cool workday. “Seeing it come out is the moment of truth,” he said.

The Lowell High School freshman’s fascination with technology is music to a career readiness consultant’s ears.

Students Noah Korhorn and Mark Allison with Kent ISD’s Ruby the Robot

Rick Mushing, a STEM consultant for Kent ISD, recently worked on engineering practices with freshmen in Becky Smiggen’s biology class and Cyndi Gibson’s support class. Students used computer-aided design software, or CAD, to create a human DNA model, and printed their plastic models using a 3-D printer on loan from Kent ISD.

“I think this is so cool, because, how did the computer know to make supports inside (the model)?” Noah said. “This printer is super-exact. It knows exactly what to do.”

New state science standards require students to meet engineering goals, so the high school has combined its regular study of DNA with engineering practices.

“The whole idea is they start to memorize (the DNA pattern sequence) by building them, rather than by rote memorization,” Mushing said.

And, as Gibson pointed out, the models serve as evidence that students understand the biology lesson.

Growing Career Possibilities

With 3-D printers already printing in plastic, wood, metal and even food, careers in industries that use them — or will use them — are on the rise, “more and more every day,” Mushing said.

Using the software and printer was a learning process for Smiggen too.

“Some of the models they printed didn’t work, and I told (students), ‘This is like real science here. That’s why they have this type of technology, so they can print them out and work out the flaws.’ The kids are really experiencing that engineering and design process.”

“The future applications of (the technology) is great exposure for the students,” Smiggen said. “It’s all part of learning and being engaged. You never know what’s going to spark these kids.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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