3D printing in the lab

3D printing fuses art, science and technology in a powerful lab

  • Written by Lana Lozova
    Aug 10, 2016

With all the creative freedom, accuracy, and speed, the variety of 3D printing applications will never cease to amaze us! Today, we have the pleasure of featuring Maurice Mikkers, the photographer, artist and trained lab technician whose work fuses his love of art, science and technology into projects like no other. He uses 3D printing to convert his artistic images into physical objects and to operate his lab more efficiently.

Maurice began his career as a Medical Laboratory Analyst. While his work in the Parasitology Department was interesting it didn’t fulfil his need for creativity. He swapped his lab coat for a camera and computer and studied interactive media design at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague. A successful career in photography morphed into an interest in micrography and gave birth to the Imaginarium project.

Maurice Mikkers in his studio
Maurice Mikkers, a photographer, artist and lab wizard

Maurice was first exposed to 3D printing as a senior at the Royal Academy of the Arts. He was able to see the Ultimaker Original in action at a FabLab event and he was hooked. As a student, he felt 3D printers were out of his financial reach, but that didn’t keep him from following the evolution of the technology through on-line articles and blogs and inspiring him to “create more crazy ideas”.

Crystalised tear micrograph by Maurice Mikker
Crystalised tear micrograph

Practical 3D printing brings new life to old microscope

When Maurice moved into the realm of micrography he needed a very special microscope. His wish list:

  • especially made for photomicrography on 35mm camera
  • good optics
  • good brand
  • 2nd view port for additional camera

Turns out the perfect scope was almost 30 years old. He fell in love with a Nikon TMD Inverted DIC microscope. The only problem was it wasn’t compatible with his digital camera and lacked a scanning stage. Maurice never let something like this stand in his way, and he created a solution.

A custom made microscope
A custom made microscope created with a 3D printer

With a little machining, the microscope was modified to accommodate his Canon 5D MKIII. Then the real modifications began. He used Autodesk fusion 360 to fashion:

  • a digital scanning stage
  • a combination side camera port and microcontroller box
  • 2-in-1 stage plate and clip
  • and a replacement socket for the lamp

All of these parts were printed on an Ultimaker 2+ with the ABS filament.

Modification challenges

One challenging aspect of the modification project was to get the measurements right in the 3D model designs. Maurice also had to figure out the best way of placing the parts for printing. He confesses that he spent most of his time working on the software to control his hardware. In fact, that task turned out to be the biggest challenge since the 3D printing was done quite fast.

Microscope upgrade
3D printed microscope part
3D printed step motor

Why Ultimaker was the ultimate choice

We asked Maurice why he selected the Ultimaker for use in his microscope modification project. He told us it was the natural choice for his needs.

The design is very clean, it’s a Dutch company, they have good reviews, and they are still quite quiet. Next to that it’s ready to use and does not need much maintenance.

What more could you ask for in a printer?

Easy to use. The answer is a 3D printer that is also easy to set up and easy to use. Maurice tells us he watched a Youtube video before his printer arrived and then just “unboxed the printer and installed it like the manual said. So I had good experience and no problems. I could easily print the things to prototype the things I had in mind.”

Open source. Since the Ultimaker is open source, he tried a number of different modeling software packages before settling on Autodesk Fusion 360. As his needs change, his software changes, but his Ultimaker will still be ready to print.

3D printing in the lab and for art

Now that the Ultimaker is up and running, Maurice sees applications in his lab and for his art. Looks like he will be keeping the printer busy.

Lab applications. In order to create his art, Maurice needs a fully functioning lab. That requires maintaining expensive laboratory equipment and purchasing supplies. He sees his 3D printer as a tool to be put to work. He plans on making additional changes to the microscope hardware for even greater control. With 3D printing he can print fully functioning equipment assemblies in a single piece. He can also print his own lab equipment to save money. For example, he plans on printing:

  • Replacement reaction tube racks
  • Stirring mixer
  • Elements for a centrifuge

This will bring him considerable cost savings over buying equipment and supplies from a lab supply house.  

Custom 3D printed microscope part
3D printed lamp socket fix
3D printed stage plate

Art applications. He also sees 3D printing as a way to expand his art. In particular he wants to apply 3D printing to his micrographs and the images from his Imaginarium of Tears.

I decided to buy my own 3D printer to convert my micrograph stories into a more physical project that shows the images captured through a microscope and convert this to physical objects so the audience can interact with it. This interaction will generate more awareness once they are triggered by its beauty.

He is especially excited about the prospects of 3D printing his tear micrographs so that blind people can “see” their own tears or create casts of the tears in order to make amulets and other jewelry.

The microscopic structures of a dried tear
3D printed tear drop
3D printing crystallised tears

Implications for other labs

I think science will be doing a lot with the power of 3D printing and prototyping. So it is good to have a 3D printer in a creative (lab) environment that is working on new concepts and ideas. It empowers you with the right knowledge to easily prototype and fix problems.

Forward-thinking researchers from all over the world are including 3D printing in their creative and prototyping processes. Need inspiration? Just check out the stories our customers and community members have to share and explore how 3D printing is changing the way we interact with the world.