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Digital Repository of Curated Molecular Models Prepared for 3D Printing

This proposal seeks to create a repository of print files and equip three ACM schools with high-resolution, multiple-color 3D resin printers.  This capacity will allow low-cost, 3D models to be available at the schools with the printers as well as at other ACM schools.

These materials can expand learning through tactile access to molecules and structures that, although they can be “seen” in two dimensions on screens or boards, cannot be felt.  We plan to take advantage of existing resources (like the suite of molecules to teach point groups assembled in Cryst. Eng. Comm., 2017, 19, 690-698) and develop our own.  The latter will be created by the project team participants and other ACM faculty.

This project will allow us to “show” and not just “tell” structural concepts to our chemistry students.  For example, polyatomic ions are introduced early in the chemistry curriculum, long before any concept of bonding or molecular shape.  Distributing models of pyramidal sulfite and tetrahedral sulfate ions to a class will quickly show the obvious differences and can begin the students’ process of understanding the abstract topic of chemistry.


Traditional molecular models cost upwards of $600 or more when purchasing from reputable companies such as Sigma-Aldrich.  These high costs make it prohibitive for many Chemistry Departments in the ACM to have the number and types of models for hands-on learning and demonstrations in the classroom.  In addition, models of networks and complex molecules can be difficult to construct using traditional model kits. The goals of this project seek to:

  1. Make high-quality molecular models available for ACM Colleges at a fraction of the cost through 3D Printing Technology.
  2. Curate molecular models that align with the pedagogy at ACM Chemistry Departments.
  3. Create an online digital repository of the models for any ACM College to download and 3D Print at their own facility.
  4. Print molecules for ACM Colleges that do not have access to a suitable 3D printer.
  5. Continue over time to build the digital repository and set up an online form for ACM Colleges to request molecules that are not in the repository.

Developing the ability to print quality chemistry models on our campuses will mean a long-term reduction in need to purchase expensive models.  As the project will include printing models at cost for ACM colleges (in addition to Lake Forest, Cornell and Luther), these savings have the potential to extend to all ACM colleges (postage and a small service fee toward printer maintenance will be incurred by Colleges purchasing models).

Student learning will be enhanced by access to models for manipulation and hands-on learning. In addition, the project includes support for several work-study students who will assist in printing models and will develop resume-worthy skills in the process.


Faculty on this project team will work together to curate and design molecules for the digital repository.  The project team will begin their work with a two-day meeting at Lake Forest College, where they will discuss the current literature on 3D printing of molecules for classroom use, plan the digital repository of molecular models, and print an initial set of test molecules.

On their own campuses, each member of the project team will work with student employees (Chemistry majors) in collaboration with Connie Corso and the Academic Technologists at Luther and Cornell to 3D print the molecules that have been selected by the project team and/or requested by faculty members at other ACM colleges.  Based on our current experience with 3D printing of molecular models, we anticipate that a significant amount of troubleshooting will be necessary to optimize the printing, particularly for complex molecules and networks.

Once a molecule is given final approval by the faculty team, the student employee will upload the 3D file to the digital repository where it can be downloaded for printing at any ACM College.  Student employees will also print by request from the digital repository for ACM Colleges without access to suitable 3D printers.

The project team will produce a curated set of digital files for printing, physical models for classroom use, and a website through which faculty members in other ACM chemistry departments may request models. We hope to expand this effort to other disciplines that would benefit from high-end models or prototypes, perhaps even of their own research. In addition, we anticipate that our discussions of the classroom uses of the models we make will lead to new ideas about teaching chemistry that we can incorporate on our home campuses.

Proposed start date, end date, and milestone dates within the project plan

Spring 2019:

  • Selection and purchase of 3D printers
    Preliminary modeling and prototyping

Summer 2019:

  • Two-day meeting of team members at Lake Forest College
  • Set-up and configuration of server and web interface
  • “Soft open” of server and initial models

Academic year 2019-20:

  • Project team works with academic technology staff and student workers to troubleshoot and print models
  • Team members regularly collaborate through Moodle.  This would include forums and video meetings.

December 2019:

  • Web form is completed for faculty from other ACM colleges to request models

Academic year 2020-21:

  • Continued work on individual campuses with quarterly video meetings of the project team

Summer 2021:

  • Off-campus presentations of project results by a chemist and an academic technologist

Dissemination Strategies

The final 3D files of will be disseminated through an online repository as downloadable files ready to 3D print. ACM Colleges may also request a print through the online repository interface.  After the grant period, we anticipate that the printing requests will be more limited, and the costs of printing will not add significantly to the Academic Technology budget of each college.  Thus, the project will be sustainable into the future.

Ultimately, the curated list of print files could be accessed through a link on the ACM Website and shared as a resource in all of the “makerspaces” across the ACM colleges.  One or more members of the project team will give a presentation on the project at a regional or national meeting of chemistry educators, such as the Midwestern Association of Chemistry Teachers in Liberal Arts Colleges, the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, or in the Chemical Education section of a regional or national meeting of the American Chemical Society.  One or more members of the Academic Technology team will give a presentation to an Educause event, either in person or online.

Resources & Materials

Consumable Materials

Multi-color resin printing requires specific supplies and they are the actual pigments and base resin for color. Each college will be able to purchase three pigment color kits and three color base resin cartridges. This will enable the printing of several molecular models, but the total number is uncertain and based on the size and intricacy of each model.


The purpose of this project is to ultimately produce high-quality molecular models and the technology foundation for this is resin printing.  Unlike extruded 3-D prints, resin printing is cured by UV as the model is created and has a seamless texture that produces a professional, strong, model.  This project also requires a server that can host the web interface and digital molecular files to allow for dissemination among all colleges in the ACM.

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