Collaboration Through 3D Printing

“A lot of times biology or science is confined to the laboratory. One of the things we’d like to do is move it from the bench top to the real world.” – Demian Willette, Ph.D. Department of Biology

With help from Seaver students and Tanya Kuzmenko, a laboratory associate in the Department of Biology, Willette was able to take that science out of the lab and apply it to the world around us. Using 3D printing and a single-celled organism called a slime mold that creates the most direct path towards its food source, Willette partnered with the Center for the Study of Los Angeles to help identify efficient mass transit system routes.

The biologists printed a 3D map of Los Angeles and placed oat flakes—a slime mold food source—at key locations. The slime mold is able to deduce the most efficient path to those locations. Scientists in Japan have experimented with this idea. There, a slime mold sample was able to recreate the railroad system of Tokyo within several days.

Willette is using real world data from the Los Angeles Metro to see where their planned lines are and comparing that to where the slime mold suggests might be a more efficient path. But the possibilities are not limited to the city. Kuzmenko believes that the process can be applied to buildings at LMU to identify the most efficient fire escape routes.

Freshmen biology students have the chance to play with the 3D models and slime mold, as the activity has been incorporated into the first year biology curriculum.