3D Printed Limbs: A Cultural As Well As A Technological Shift

Is new technology truly available just because it’s technically available? The Critical Making lab is hard at work on creating 3D printed prosthetics for Ugandan amputees but it’ll take a cultural, as well as a technological, change to really make the program take flight. Read the story here.

Heart to Heart in the Critical Making Lab

This Valentine’s Day, Research Associate Joshua Qua Hiansen wants to give away his heart. It’s okay, he has a lot of spares:

Purple heart 1 Pink heart 1

Of course, these hearts don’t beat for anyone, even true love. They’re anatomical models for teaching medical students. More on Josh’s Twitter:

Mixed media human aortic valve

Demonstration of valve printed in flexible resin

Progression of printing


All About The Critical Making Lab’s Partner, Nia Technologies

printAbility is one of the many exciting projects that Critical Making Lab researchers are involved with. It focuses on creating the infrastructure for making customized leg prosthetics in the developing world. Learn about the lab’s partner in this work, Nia Technologies, here.

Researcher Profile: Daniel Southwick

Daniel Southwick

Daniel Southwick is a PhD candidate in the Critical Making Lab, currently working on his dissertation. He is interested in troubling current conceptions about 3D printing. 3D printing is often promoted as the transition from digital objects into physical ones. Daniel’s recent project, the Camera Obscura, shows that it isn’t that simple.

The Camera Obscura project started from a simple goal: Southwick wanted to print and put together a camera from a pattern downloaded from the internet. If 3D printing truly was as simple as it is often perceived, this should be no issue. It was not, however, that simple.

Creating the camera in fact required physical and social structures which were not present for Southwick. The pattern was not created in a void but as part of the creator’s environment. The pattern came from a European country; connecting parts were metric and difficult to get in Canada. Putting it together also required a great deal of implicit knowledge of how cameras work – for example, Southwick initially printed the camera in white plastic, not realizing that reflection of light would be an issue when actually taking photos.

Camera obscura

The camera, put together

Although Southwick wanted to avoid excessive self-reflection, he pointed out that the Camera Obscura project demonstrates just how complicated it can be to move an object from the digital realm into the physical and how deeply an object’s pattern is influenced by the culture and environment of its creator.

Camera Obscura photo 2

Photo taken with the camera. Still a ways to go!

Critical Making Lab Research in the News

PhD student Gabby Resch’s research experimenting with new modes of multisensory museum interaction was recently mentioned in a Toronto Star article on the use of 3D printing to enhance a blind Brazilian mother’s birth experience.

Critical Making Lab at Richmond Hill Public Library

October 24, 2014Gabby Resch3dprinting0

Critical Making Lab members Dan Soutwick and Gabby Resch demonstrated a workshop concept using lego bricks to foster greater understanding of 3D design processes at Richmond Hill Public Library in October. This is the second time they’ve been invited to RHPL to talk about 3D printing. The methods they’ve been experimenting with will inform a year-long research project they are undertaking with other members of the Semaphore research cluster. Expect to see frequent updates about library and museum-based events coordinated by the group throughout 2015.

Fall 2014 Critical Making Workshop Series

We are hosting a workshop series at the University of Toronto this fall!

The first event in the Critical Making Lab Workshop Series uses desktop fabrication tools to make custom prostheses. “Scanning, modelling & printing—An experimental toolchain for prosthetics,” the first workshop in the Critical Making Lab Workshop Series, will take place Thursday, the 18th of September. Open to students and the public, this workshop will explore a prosthesis-production toolchain developed by researchers in Semaphore’s Critical Making Lab. Using affordable 3D scanning and 3D printing tools, as well as free 3D modelling tools, this workshop offers participants the opportunity to try out a process which will soon undergo a pilot study in a Ugandan hospital.

The workshop will take place from 1PM to 3PM, Thursday, the 18th of September in the Semaphore Demo room (rm. 1150, on the ground floor of Robarts Library).
Registration is full.

This workshop will ask participants to explore 3D design with the aid of a library of building blocks. This workshop is ideal for anyone interested in design, 3D printing, or building blocks. No training or special tools are necessary, though experienced designers are welcome. We will be providing iPads preloaded with the design software. Participants will be able to take any completed prints home with them.
DATE & TIME:Tuesday October 14th, 1:30pm-4:30pm
LOCATON: Semaphore Research Cluster Demo Room (room 1150), Main Floor, Robarts Library, 130 St. George Street
Click here to register.

Extending the “Doomsday Clock” that has been representationally deployed by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1947 to warn the world of the possible imminence of nuclear catastrophe, participants will develop tools to alert the public about the growth or decline of a variety of threats to global civilization, such as ecological crisis (i.e. desertification or ocean acidification); political or sociological catastrophes (i.e. potential genocides or infrastructure collapses); and public health issues (i.e. influenza pandemics).
This workshop is ideal for data scientists seeking to make their data more meaningful through the use of eye-catching visualization; sociologists, political scientists, and environmental scientists who would like collaborate with technologists to build educational tools; historians and futurists alike; public health and disaster researchers; designers and artists.
DATE & TIME: Tuesday November 18th, 1:30-4:30
LOCATION: Semaphore Research Cluster, Demo Room (room 1150), Main Floor, Robarts Library, 130 St. George Street
Click here to register.


Re/Making the Unknown: A Symposium Exploring Humanistic Approaches in Science and Technology Research

A few of us from the Critical Making Lab are co-organizing a half-day symposium that brings together scholars from multiple fields to discuss the use of interdisciplinary humanistic approaches and methods in understanding:

  • how scientific and cultural knowledge are produced

  • how infrastructures that cross disciplinary boundaries can share objects, methods, and features

  • and how new technologies that blur material/digital distinctions are changing cultural institutions

Date: June 18

Location: Room 1150, Robarts Library (Main Floor), 130 St. George Street, University of Toronto

Session One – 10am to 12pm

Finding the Known in the Unknown – This session will discuss historically-informed approaches to curating unknown, discarded, and damaged/destroyed technoscientific objects. This session will be facilitated by curators from the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection, and will present a handful of case studies that see historical artifacts from the collection brought to new life through the use of cutting edge technologies.

Coffee and light lunch (provided) – 12pm to 1pm

Session Two – 1pm to 3pm

3D (De/Re)Materialization This session will consider, with respect to the use of 3D technologies in humanistic approaches to science and technology studies, how 3D scanning and printing can be beneficial for some humanities scholars. Through the presentation of relevant examples and a live demonstration of 3D scanning and printing technologies, it will encourage a discussion around whether 3D makes possible certain kinds of investigations that are becoming increasingly necessary in a number of disciplines. The session will be facilitated by scholars from Information, Museum Studies, and History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.


This symposium is an effort of the Jackman Humanities Institute Working Group on Humanistic Studies of Science and Technology.

Collaborative 3D-Printed Mesopotamian City at the Royal Ontario Museum

Together with Toronto startup MAKELAB and the [R]ed[U]x Architectural Science Design Lab at Ryerson, Critical Making Lab members Dan Southwick and Gabby Resch designed and implemented a 4-week 3D printing experience at the Royal Ontario Museum that ran in November and December, 2013. This experience saw patrons of the ROM’s Friday Night Live public engagement use iPads to design their own custom ancient Mesopotamian buildings and then print their designs on a small fleet of 3D printers. Over the course of the 4-week run, many of the printed creations were assembled into a unique, crowd-sourced exhibit. Mudbrick ziggurat-based CN Towers on the banks of the Tigris, robots and cats perched above grand temples, and collapsed ruins are just a few examples of what the public imagined and built in this experience.

More information about this event can be found here.

Not Print Print Bang Bang: 3d printed guns and the illusion of digital immateriality

Recently, in the Critical Making lab we printed a nonworking version of the Defense Distributed 3d model ‘liberator’ handgun. To be precise we printed a disabled version of the gun as part of a project on the increasing hybridity of the virtual/material world and the role of 3D printing more generally. We did so publicly (link to Globe and Mail story here) in order to initiate an open conversation on issues related to 3D printing and guns and to hopefully engage law enforcement, regulators, policy makers, and 3D printing advocates in developing a measured rather than a knee-jerk response to the perceived problems associated with 3D printing. That an open conversation is necessary was brought home to us by recent calls by both conservative and democratic politicians in the US for regulation of 3D printers.

We are certainly interested in facilitating and extending the current debates and are hopeful that we can work with authorities to address concerns. However, we also want to be clear that the gun is just a ‘canary in the coal mine’ for a whole slew of important theoretical and pragmatic information issues. Our work is not on firearms or the functionality of 3D printed guns per se, but addresses the limitations of our capacity to engage and think about them. We are primarily interested in the increasingly tenuous dividing line between our mundane and physically embodied existence and the seemingly separate and virtual modes associated with digital technologies. Recent debates regarding the material nature of information have been given a new locus given the development of working 3D printable guns. Our reason for printing the gun was simply to take note of this new recentering and to explore the issues from a number of different perspectives.

More specifically, the law and other formal and informal entities are used to treating ‘the digital’ and ‘the physical’ as two entirely separate worlds. We have been encouraged to think this way by a whole variety of individuals and institutions, including both libertarian (e.g. John Perry Barlow’s famous ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’) and conservative voices (e.g. reasoning regarding the DMCA in the US,) depending on need. Over the last few decades, a lot of work has been done to encourage the idea that information is immaterial, that form and content can be separated, that the medium is just a neutral channel for transmission. (Mcluhan was prescient in calling attention to the limits of this idea!)

Matthew Kirshenbaum has noted that “computers are unique in the history of writing technologies in that they present a pre-meditated material environment built and engineered to propagate an illusion of immateriality”. 3D printing calls attention to this fallacy – and the 3d printed gun is only one example of this, albeit a particularly evocative one. Other examples of this fallacy include the idea that all information (not just the computational) is similarly immaterial. This results in the idea that once books and other textual materials have been scanned and digital versions have been created, the physical ‘versions’ can simply be thrown away since all value resides in the ‘informational’ content and that has been captured. While librarians, archivists, and critical scholars from a range of disciplines (Katherine Hayles, Matthew Kirschenbaum, JF Blanchette, and many others) have been speaking about the problems of this perspective for many years, 3D printing definitely highlights the pragmatic and not just the theoretical import of such issues.

Our research on 3D printing includes work on its use to facilitate accessibility for the visually impaired, new forms of distributed productivity and design, and other socially beneficial attributes. Our printing of the gun model and exploration of its dimensions should not be taken as either a whole-hearted embracing of the cyber-anarchistic future articulated by its original creator, nor of a ‘won’t somebody think of the children’ reductive response. Instead, the project stands as part of our work as information scholars and as public intellectuals debating and exploring new information technologies and the patterns of life associated with them.

Matt Ratto on 3D-Printed Guns

Matt Ratto recently appeared on an episode of TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin to discuss the critical implications of 3D printing dangerous, controversial, and occasionally illegal technologies (like guns) with Paikin and Cody Wilson, director of Defense Distributed, the R&D firm behind Liberator 3D-printed gun.

Critical Making Lab and Children’s Own Media Museum at Harbourfront

Lab members Antonio Gamba Bari and Gabby Resch, in conjunction with the Children’s Own Media Museum, took a handful of arduinos and one of the lab makerbots down to Toronto’s Harbourfont Victoria Day festival in order to provide the opportunity for kids (and their parents) to explore, create, and build a range of unique artifacts. It was an interesting opportunity for us to explore the interactive possibilities afforded in a busy, chaotic atmosphere, as well as a chance to see how a long-running group such as the COMM anticipates and prepares for an event that caters to hundreds of both excited and distracted kids (and their parents) as they experience technologies like 3D printing and electronic circuits for the first time.

Critical Making Lab Members at Ladies Learning Code 3D Printing Workshop

Critical Making Lab members Dan Southwick and Gabby Resch recently mentored a 3D printing workshop for Toronto non-profit Ladies Learning Code. LLC is an organization that runs workshops for women (and men) who want to learn beginner-friendly computer programming and other technical skills in a social and collaborative way. Over the past few years, they’ve established a number of chapters across Canada, a thriving girls’ program called Girls Learning Code, and a permanent workshop space in Toronto. Gabby has previously instructed one of their 3D printing events, so it was a real eye-opener to see how far they’ve come over the past year in developing the infrastructure and mentoring support to expose the broader public to this technology.

Gabby with one of the lab makerbots at the Ladies Learning Code 3D printing workshop.

Gabby with one of the lab makerbots at the Ladies Learning Code 3D printing workshop.

Building the Thing-O-Matic

March 12, 2012gabby3dprinting, projects0

I recently built a Makerbot Thing-O-Matic at the lab, preparing it for a demonstration at the iSchool student conference in February.  Surprisingly, the build was relatively easy, if a bit tedious. It’d probably be best to find someone with tiny little fingers to help you connect the nuts and bots, as the provided Allen keys have a tendency to bend under light stress after about 5 uses, and your patience will be pushed to the limit. That said, I just listened to lots of space jams and zoned out. Uriah Heep, Mountain, T. Rex, Alice Cooper, and Golden Earring were all on heavy rotation throughout the build. If only we could burn incense in the lab without setting off the fire alarm…

Anyway, aside from a dud MK5 extruder motor, everything went surprisingly well. While I took my time – few hours here, few hours there, over the course of a month – a similar build, especially by someone with any relevant experience, could easily be done in a day or day-and-a-half. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you have a good, sharp knife.
  • Don’t waste your time following the instructions to tape behind the t-slot nuts to keep them in place. In 99% of the cases, your finger will be sufficient.
  • The tubing for the build platform rollers in our kit was clear, unlike the black tubing in the instructions. It needs to be cut EXACT, or you will be trimming it with very painstaking precision to make the roller fit.
  • Get extra sandpaper (probably some rougher grit stuff) than what is provided.
  • Have some extra Allen keys kicking around. The provided ones bend under a small amount of stress, rendering them basically useless in no time at all.
  • Make sure you know your bolt sizes. Get a little tackle box or something that can keep them separate.
  • The ceramic tape to wrap the extruder core is pretty fragile, so be careful with it as it’s pretty hard to find.
  • With regard to firmware, I used the Linux 0028, as well as the Windows0028,29,30. One of the Windows ones – 29 or 30… I can’t remember – doesn’t display the control panel properly.
  • When you make the motherboard stack, be sure to press the sandwich together tightly.
  • If you have an MK5, throw it away.

I’ve posted more information, including links to tips, fallout, and success on my personal research wiki. An associated gallery of images (with notes) can be seen on my website by clicking on the 3D Printing thumbnail. I’ve also posted a few videos on YouTube of the thing in action.

Thanks to Liav Koren for lending an MK6 motor when our MK5 turned out to be shot.



Christmas Trees and 3D printers

I’ve been playing with the new 3D printer – a Dimension 1200ES by Stratasys. Quality is very high, build area is significant, and quite easy to use. I’ve run off a few orange (that was the ABS color that was loaded) christmas trees, based on this model. Here’s a picture of the whole forest. nectarine_forest

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