When it comes to boundary-pushing research, MIT Media Lab is no slouch. This year their Mediated Matter Group stunned with their Silk Pavilion, which harnessed architecture, design and biomimicry with digital fabrication in an unusual way: The two-part structure was begun using CNC-deposited silk fibers laid out by an algorithm, then actual silkworms themselves were used to fill in the gaps with their own material, behaving as "biological printers."
Across MIT's campus, meanwhile, Skylar Tibbits and his Self-Assembly Lab are themselves adding a new dimension to 3D printing: Time. Tibbits and his team's research into how 3D-printed objects can be induced into changing their form over time has yielded what they're calling 4D printing. One of their goals, as the organization's name suggests, will be to create self-assembling objects and structures.
Jake Evill isn't from MIT, but rather Victoria University of Wellington, and the freshly-minted ID grad has been experimenting with 3D-Printed Exoskeletal Casts. Protective, lightweight, breathable, and fully customizable to the user, Evill's concept makes itchy plaster casts look as primitive as leeching people for blood.
At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 3D printing has now officially become part of the curriculum. SAIC's Designed Objects program provided "the first classroom in the world equipped with a class-count of individual 3D printers," pointing the way towards what will surely become standard kit in future. Instructor Brian Anderson gave us the full skinny over the summer with his recap of the "Immediate Objects: Explorations in 3D printing" workshop.
Pratt Institute's Cigital Arts and Humanities Research Center also pushed the education in digital fabrication envelope with their New Skins: Computation Design for Fashion Workshop. Led by designer Francis Bitonti, the three-week intensive summer course had students go start-to-finish on a dress, but an unusual one: After learning to create complex geometry using animation software, and printing it out with MakerBots, bodies were scanned and designed onto in the digital environment to 3D print prototypes.
By week three, the team had winnowed the collective creations down to one final design and had at it.
Lastly, for Chicagoans who aren't in design school and don't have access to an educational facility's resources, there came a bit of good news: The Chicago Public Library announced their Innovation Lab, a free-to-the-public digital fabrication maker space that opened in July. Stocked with MakerBots, laser cutters, a vinyl cutter and a CNC mill (and the computers and software to run it all), the Innovation Lab is open seven days a week and offers free workshops and demonstrations. As a trial run program, the Innovation Lab—also colloquially referred to as the ChiPubLib Maker Lab—was supposed to shutter its doors on December 31st while the program was evaluated; but strong demand saw the financing grant extended through March. Probably also didn't hurt that the Maker Lab won the 2013 Chicago Innovation Awards!