The process of 3-D printing has been widely accepted. In fact, the FabLab at Hamilton's Bitterroot College UM has been creating 3D parts since 2015. The International Space Station can create some replacement parts in orbit, and even the Bitterroot Public Library has a small 3D printer for replacement parts.

3D printing uses plastic, which is melted and then layered by a moving print head to create an object. It can be done a desktop and the creations are becoming more complex every year.

Montana State University (MSU) Assistant Professor Cecily Ryan at the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering has started a project that uses "biological and biodegradable" materials.

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) liked what they saw and has backed the project with a $700,000 CAREER grant, which is given to early-career researchers. The money will help the basic study and some community projects over the next five years.

Dilpreet Bajwa, head of the department, said in a news release, "This is groundbreaking science that could have implications across a wide range of fields, not just in engineering but in agriculture, architecture and other areas."

Using more than just plastic to create items

The work will involve how biodegradable materials could be used, combining with liquids that will absorb some of the heat used in 3D printing. It will also look at developing new 3D printing heads to use different printing materials. The NSF funds will support graduate and undergraduate students, and even will support outreach MSU programs involving K-12 students in Montana.

Ryan said, "We're definitely on a new frontier in this area. I'm excited about how we can engineer materials that can work with a product through its entire life cycle." More information is at the MSU News Service.

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