The latest 3D printing technology calls to mind real-world applications of fictional, futuristic technology
3D printers have garnered attention in education as of late, due to their ability to generate unique objects and their capacity to engage students and drum up interest in STEM subjects such as engineering.
In fact, 3D printers help students make real-world connections between their classroom learning and careers and technological applications.
As the technology advances, many think it is approaching “Star Trek status,” as they liken 3D printing to the original series’ replicator technology.
(Next page: How is 3D printing moving us closer to Star Trek?)
According to a new infographic , 3D printing is growing at a rapid pace.
A number of companies offer software or 3D scans to create 3D models for printing, including Autodesk, 123dapp.com, Blender.org, and Adobe.
Once that file is created, it is loaded into the printer’s memory, or into a compatible external device that works with the printer. The model is “digitally sliced” horizontally into thin layers, and each layer is printed on top of the previous.
Consumer 3D printers are becoming more affordable, with some clocking in at under $1,000, meaning that more schools are able to purchase the technology. And as the technology expands, university partnerships and grant programs make it easier for K-12 schools to expose their students to 3D printing.
The University of Southern California has a 3D printer large enough to build a 2,500-square-foot home in 24 hours.
Engineering classes and science classes across the country are using 3D printers to boost student interest in STEM and show students how what they learn today is put into practice in the real world.
Buford Middle School in Virginia is using 3D printers with some science classes as part of a collaboration  with the University of Virginia to help prepare K-12 students for high-tech jobs. The partnership includes plans to offer advanced manufacturing technology programs at more high schools and middle schools.
Many universities frequently use 3D printers in classes and research. For example, the University of Houston’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics used 3D printers  to build small wind tunnels used in Ph.D. students’ research.