Monday, March 12, 2012
As a biochemist I love looking at protein structures. But what I love even more than looking at something is having it, physically, in my hands to play with. Sadly you can't put together a physical protein out of a bunch of elementary plastic parts like those chemical model kits (darn chemists get to have all the fun), and if you tried to make a protein out of chemical model parts you would be broke pretty quick (and you'd need to move into a hangar).
So the next best thing is 3d printing. There are websites that will 3d print protein models for you, and other websites that will print any old thing for you, but they tend to be ridiculously expensive and if I was going to do this for real (with the intent of learning something about proteins from the process) I would want to 3d print lots of different things, for example proteins in different conformations, maybe at different scales with different ligands, etc. I want to be able to play with the concept, not feel constrained by the price tag every time (and thus afraid to make a mistake).
So, simply, what I've done is built my own 3d printer for the purpose of printing these models.
This is Heffy. He can move his axes up to 4 mm/s, and has a nozzle size of 0.8 mm. Print quality is steadily increasing, but as of now I can achieve 0.4 mm layers with a minimum feature size of 1 mm. The cartesian robot part is based off this, with these electronics and a stepper-driven extruder similar to this.
So I'll post pictures of what I've made along with a short description and a link to the stl I used to make them.