A Different Kind of 3D Modelling

The Critical Making Lab currently deals mostly with 3d printing and its impact but researchers at Queen’s University have taken 3d modelling in a different direction. Learn all about it here.

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.

Is a Prosthetic A Limb or Just A Piece of Property?

In a perfect future, the Critical Making lab will have outfitted a prosthetic limb on everyone who needs one. But as technology becomes more advanced, the divide between person and prosthetic becomes thinner. Motherboard explores the legal ramifications of improved prosthetics and asks whether damage to a prosthetic should count as personal or property damage.

The Darker Side of 3D Printing

3D  printing may potentially change manufacturing and our culture as a whole. But is it really all sunshine and roses? Lab curator Rowena McGowan explores the issue of 3D printed guns on the University of Toronto Museum Studies program blog.

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


Saving the Ocean Through Footwear?!

Here in the Critical Making Lab, we’re always interested in new technological innovations. That’s why we were so curious about Adidas’ plan to 3D print sneakers from ocean plastic. Read the story here.

A short video on the PrintAbility project

Interested in seeing how the Critical Making Lab’s PrintAbility project works? iPrintability has you covered.

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.

Highlights from The Critical Making Lab Collection: Model of LightSail Cube Satellite

Anyone who’s interested in 3D printing probably has at least a tiny soft spot in their heart for science fiction. And what’s more sci fi than space travel? Of course, we’re not quite here

or here


But space travel is evolving all the time. The Planetary Society, a non-profit space advocacy group, has been busy developing a a citizen-funded project called LightSail that will use the sun’s energy as a method of propulsion. See the Planetary Society’s website for more information. The LightSail model is experimental for now – the first test flight was in 2015 – and a full demonstration isn’t scheduled until later this year.

The Critical Making lab has partnered with The Planetary Society to create realistic 3D-printed models of the LightSail Cube Satellite. There models are not functional, but will be used for educational purposes to explain how the actual Lightsail works. Stay tuned for future examples…

LightSailSolar sail






Note: Spaceship images from Wikimedia.

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. Companies such as BumbleJax are using acrylic prints to print various types of images as it makes the image impervious to UV rays and also brings out the vivid colors of an image.

Camera Obscura photo 2

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

The Promise of Library Maker Culture

May 25, 2015Gabby Reschevents1

PhD students Dan Southwick and Gabby Resch will be giving a keynote presentation titled “What’s in the Box? The Promise of Library Maker Culture” at the Mississauga Library System’s annual staff conference on May 27, 2015. Slides from their presentation will be available here after the presentation.

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 Innovative Circuit 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.

Building the Thing-O-Matic

March 12, 2012gabby3dprinting, projects1

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.



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