Not In Every Living Room, A Homemade 3-D Printer

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Jim Smith, a 23-year-old in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., is taking citizen science to another level. He designed and built his own 3-D printer, which sits in the corner of his living room. Science Friday visited with Smith, got a tour of the machine and did some printing.

IRA FLATOW, host:

Next up, Flora Lichtman is here with our Digital Pick of the Week, video pick -what have we got this week, Flora?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Hi, there.

LICHTMAN: This week, we made a house call to visit a super citizen scientist. Jim Smith is not messing around. I mean, we've been talking about citizen scientists for the last couple of minutes, but I think he could give any scientist a real run for their money. He built his own 3-D printer, and it's in his living room, in the corner.

FLATOW: Of all the places.

LICHTMAN: It's just amazing.

FLATOW: He's got to have it there. I do think...

LICHTMAN: If there's, like, a fume duct behind the couch, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Oh, by the way, here's my 3-D printer.

LICHTMAN: There might be work benches. It's amazing. It was really neat to see. So he built this and designed it. And I was curious why, you know, why you would go to the trouble. It costs, like, $3,000, and you can get open-source, unassembled kits for less. MakerBot makes one. There's a Cornell Group, Fab@Home, that makes one. Why did he do it? So I asked him. And we have a clip from his house.

Mr. JIM SMITH (3-D Printer Maker): I don't know. I just was - just excited by the possibility that I can literally just make anything on the computer, and I can just print it out. You know, commercial 3-D printers are, you know, way out of my price range. So I really wanted to see if I could make my own, and came out with this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Now, this - a 3-D printer makes objects, right?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. Right. So the basics here is that it takes a computer image, a 3-D computer image, and then it prints it out - in Jim's case, it prints it in plastic. And most of them, it seems, print in plastic. And they print, sort of, from the ground up.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: And Jim's quote, for me, just epitomizes the spirit of an inventor. You know, he was like, well, if I could make it myself, why not?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: What the heck? I could - that's - give me a hard one. Yeah.

LICHTMAN: It was like magic for me. But he was like, hmm, yeah, it was okay.

FLATOW: And he went to his apartment, and you saw the printer, and you made a wonderful video. That's our Video Pick of the Week. It's Flora's video. It's up there on our website at sciencefriday.com. And you can watch this 3-D printer print out a very special object for us, right?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. I mean, this is the thing that was really neat that I sort of understood when I got there. You can customize objects. And so like let's say you didn't get your boss a gift for the holidays because you couldn't quite settle on the right one, maybe...

FLATOW: Make him something special.

LICHTMAN: ...make him something special. So Ira, here, I have something to present to you. This is our production run one.

FLATOW: Oh, it's a - got a penny stuck in...

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: It's the SCIENCE FRIDAY bottle opener.

FLATOW: Oh, just what I've always wanted.

LICHTMAN: What you've always needed, I'm sure.

FLATOW: SCIENCE FRIDAY - one of a kind, right? There is no other one of these in the world?

LICHTMAN: Custom plastics. You know how big that "Graduate" quote, the plastic?

FLATOW: Plastics.

LICHTMAN: Now we're talking custom plastics.

LICHTMAN: All right. If you want to see it being built, right, you can go to our website at sciencefriday.com. It's a Video Pick of the Week. Flora's put that video together, and you can watch how this 3-D printer got it all done.

Thanks, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: We'll see you next week.

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