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mycoplasma model Z650.jpg
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When you consider pneumonia you probably do not visualise anything like the colourful 3D printed designs made by Masaru Kawakami, Associate Professor of the School of Materials Science at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
But how did Kawakami's work evolve into these interesting 3D printed shapes?
Last year, the scientist published a paper on how to make useful protein molecular models using 3D printing. After the paper was finished, leading expert in the field of the locomotive mechanism of mycoplasma Professor Makoto Miyata asked Kawakami if he would join his research-funded project "Harmonised supramolecular motility machinery and its diversity" and make some "Kawakami-models" for his own research.
Kawakami was then tasked with making a model of mycoplasma pneumonia - a bug that causes flu-like symptoms and commonly affects those who work around a lot of people.
Kawakami first made a full-colour 3D model but upon completion of the initial prototype realised that he would need the information for that model stored somewhere should the client require another to save both time and money, so the scientist turned to CAD and made a virtual 3D model of the mycoplasma.
"If we start building 3D data of a scientific model, it costs much less [to make copies]. Furthermore, if another research wants to have the model in a different colour, it is really easy," Kawakami explained.
"[The] scientific model is based on hypothetical model, so the model should be renewed according to new discovery or revision of academic theory."
Kawakami set to work obtaining the requisite data for an STL file, so once compiled the client could then make duplicates at a lower cost than commissioning models the old fashioned way.
The resulting models, Kawakami points out, are merely concept models - as the mycoplasma molecules are so miniscule ("~1 micro meter, comparable to the wavelength of light") that the concept of colour does not exist at that scale.
Furthermore, if a new structure for a molecule is found or the theory has changed then renewing the 3D model is simple, as the original 3D data can easily be changed to accommodate new figures.
Kawakami concluded that if researchers publish this 3D data online them science museums, institutions and schools can then replicate the models themselves for the cost of the print materials.
"This is a fantastic idea, isn't it?" Kawakami concluded.