OSR Journal of Student Research

Article Title

Improving Geoscience Education with a Public Database of 3D-printable Crystal Models


Michael Murrey


An important application of crystallography is the description of the form and symmetry of minerals, e.g., the 3D shapes of diamond or quartz crystals. Most students find this topic quite challenging. Traditionally, students have used collections of hand-crafted wooden block models to learn crystallography, but such collections are typically limited because the models are extremely expensive, requiring the skills of an artisan woodworker. Luckily, the advent of 3D printing technologies permits the production of large, inexpensive, accurate collections of crystal models. Using CSUSB 3D-printing facilities the authors began building a geologically useful public database of mineral forms and crystallographic files. This project will eventually result in creating 3D shape database would be shared on a CSUSB-hosted website and would solicit crowd-sourced contributions from its users, with the goal of becoming the premier online source for geologically-relevant 3D-printable crystal models on the internet. The file-building procedures developed in this project will also be replicated in subsequent mineralogy courses at CSUSB, so that future students could participate in augmenting the databases over time, simultaneously advancing their own learning of crystallography and 3D-printing technologies. Initial results of this project are the successful implementation of software protocols to create CAD files, and the successful 3D printing of selected forms, demonstrating that we have developed a workflow. We have produced some simple preliminary forms and also compound forms, and have begun developing webpage content including animated multimedia and still images of these forms. Finally, we have begun developing a manual for making CAD files to be used by future students once this phase of the project is complete.

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