A new dimension in printing

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St. Isidore of Seville sometimes is called the patron saint of computers and the Internet. The fourth-century Spanish saint wrote numerous books, including an encyclopedia, a dictionary and rules for religious orders.

St. Isidore probably wouldn't know what to make of the computer lab at Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Vienna and the large black open box tucked away in a corner.

The MakerBot Replicator is a three-dimensional printer that makes objects.

The printer was a gift from the parents of a student who want to remain anonymous. The family is not Catholic, but when looking for a school for their child, they were "impressed" with Our Lady of Good Counsel.

When Mary Briody, school technology coordinator, met with these parents, they asked her about her hopes and dreams for the chool.

The 3-D printer was a dream primarily because it can cost thousands of dollars.

The printer was ordered in December and arrived in January. Because of winter storm closings in January, they had only 11 days to set it up and test it.

They're still learning how to use it but are practicing by printing things like plastic nuts and bolts and Valentine's Day hearts.

The printer works by heating coils of thin plastic filament and extruding them onto a plate inside the printer. A computer program guides the nozzle to build up successive layers of material that will take the shape of some three-dimensional object. Plastic filament come in different colors and cost about the same as printer cartridges.

"It's like a Play-Doh factory on steroids," said Briody.

She wants the students to design their own 3-D objects using the MakerBot software instead of relying on premade models.

It's not a fast process. Nuts and bolts could take 45 minutes to create, while large objects take longer.

Briody said the teachers have brainstormed ideas for the new printer, including the religion teacher who wants to make 3-D images of Pope Francis.

The social studies teacher wants to build a 3-D colonial village, while the math teacher thinks using the printer to create three-dimensional images from equations would be a good learning tool.

The 3D printer joins an impressive arsenal of technical equipment available to Our Lady of Good Counsel students, including Apple Ipads, Google Chrome tablets and ClamCase Pros, another tablet brand.

St. Isidore would be impressed.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016