Creativity in many dimensions at the Ångstrom Makerspace

2020-03-05

A genetics lab in miniature for the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 3D-printed at Ångström Makerspace.
Foto/bild: Anneli Björkman

Many passers-by have been casting curious gazes at the glass cage located in the Ångstrom Library. So far however, it’s mainly been students who have taken the step inside the Ångström Makerspace.

“Students and employees at the University are both welcome to the engineering workshop to develop prototypes and try out equipment such as 3D-printers,” says Julia Löfstrand, student and trainer.

Engineering students Martin Westman and
Fredrik Dragsten.

While the space is not huge, the level of activity is all the more intense among students in the Ångström Makerspace. Two guys are busy printing out small box-like structures in a 3D-printer. It turns out that they are parts for a genetics lab in miniature, a job commissioned by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

“Researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences want to be able to document genetically modified plants over time under identical light conditions and without disturbing them,” says Martin Westman.

He and Fredrik Dragsten are last-year-students at the Master's Programme in Electrical Engineering at the Ångström Laboratory. That SLU needs their engineering know-how is perfect as preparation for their degree projects. They used a CAD application to create the drawings for the miniature lab.

“We sat and designed 24 models in the computer before we arrived at this one,” says Martin Westman.

Fredrik Dragsten adds:

“And then when you start to print there’s a lot of measuring – ‘that doesn’t work, right then we’ll bore it out’”.

Access to electronic equipment

The capability to quickly print and test if different prototypes work or not is the basic idea behind the Ångström Makerspace. If they do fit the bill and you want to produce them in metal, you can then take them to Ångström’s engineering workshop,” says Uwe Zimmermann, researcher at the Department of Materials Science and one of the Makerspace founders.   

“You can even repair electronic parts here as we have a good soldering station. But prototyping is really the idea behind the Makerspace. Sample mountings, parts of experiments, all these kinds of things have been made here.

To use of one of the 3D-printers you need to get your 3D driver’s license. Every Wednesday afternoon, with the exception of holiday periods and exam periods, a two-hour training session is offered at the Makerspace and you can apply to take the course through the University Library homepage, for example. There is space for 12 people in each training session. After successfully completing the session, you can book 3D-printers according to a schedule.  Anyone with a University ID card has access to the Makerspace premises around the clock, and students with campus cards between 5 a.m. and midnight. 

3D-printers at Ångström Makerspace.

Because the equipment is best suited to Ångström’s engineering subject areas, a new Makerspace will soon be opening at the Evolutionary Biology Centre.

“It will probably have a slightly different orientation. They will still have 3D-printers but also instruments such as microscopes and VR equipment to suit their students’ needs,” says Julia Löfstrand.

She is one of the Makerspace team’s original trainers and is completing her last year of the Master’s Programme in Materials Engineering. She found out about the Makerspace while completing her Bachelor’s degree project on 3D modelling. As student employee, you work at the Makerspace around 13 hours per month.

“In addition to holding training sessions in 3D-printing, CAD modelling and the microcontroller Arduino Board, some maintenance and repair of the printers is also part of these hours. But that also gives us trainers the opportunity to learn how the printers function,” says Julia Löfstrand.

Library is sponsoring material

Three 3D-printers are lined up along one glass wall. Their modest size makes it difficult to imagine that they would be capable of some of the more complex printing jobs. But appearances can be deceptive. Trainer David Wiberg has used one of them to print a copy of the University Library’s Carolina Rediviva building. In a number of parts of course, that were then glued together, but still. It’s now part of the Carolina Rediviva exhibition.

A lot of plastic is consumed in the printing process, but the Ångstrom Library is sponsoring that. For bigger personal projects, users are encouraged to buy their own material. All other equipment and tools may be used on site at no cost.

In the Makerspace team, do you have any dream projects yourselves that you would like to 3D-print?

“I want to make a submarine, radio or wire-operated, out of plastic,” says Olof Bräne, who like David Wiberg is a Master’s student in engineering physics. These two will stay on as trainers while Julia Löfstrand will quit to focus on her degree project during the spring.

Over at the electrical engineering worktable, the genetics lab is impressively taking shape.

Can you share some of the lessons learned to avoid having to throw too many creations in the trash?

“When you 3D-print things, the big difference in relation to the drawing in the computer is that things swell. So the dimensions aren’t the same once you have printed them. You learn that you have to add margins,” says Martin Westman. Fredrik Dragsten interjects:

“But sometimes it is just trial and error, over and over again until it works.”  

Team Makerspace, from left: August Berg, Uwe Zimmermann, Julia Löfstrand, David Wiberg, Olof Bräne. 

Anneli Björkman