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Toilet bowls, orbitals and board games: teachers increasingly use 3D objects

18 April 2023
Why print toilet bowls, cheese slices and Pokémon in 3D? At first glance, these objects may seem to have nothing to do with academic education. Yet, these kinds of items are increasingly present in lecture halls. Two sociology lecturers used 3D printed avatars in a board game, and a printed orbital was incorporated during lectures on quantum chemistry. Through these innovative techniques, lecturers are able to bring reality closer to students.

From 2019, the VU University Library has been equipped with three 3D printers. These are located in the Tech Lab (NU 1A-25) together with a VR installation. Lecturers, students and other staff are invited to use the 3D printers for innovative projects. You can tell there's plenty of creative ideas when you glance at the showcase already printed objects. Your eyes are almost immediately drawn to a small building that is decorated with impressive details. "It is a 3D print of one of the mausoleums along the Via Appia, the famous ancient highway that ran from Rome to Brindisi," explains Tech Lab manager Linde Voorend.

Toilet bowls, cheese slicers and Pokémon
Other items that quickly draw attention to them are the numerous tiny toilet bowls. The objects are part of a set of avatars printed for the board game Causes of Inequality. Two sociology teachers developed the game to make students view the subject of inequality from a different perspective. "We used the objects to let students play a serious game about social inequalities," explains sociology lecturer Stef Bouwhuis. "In this case, the objects are not the focal object of learning, but by gamifying the topic you get students excited and engaged, while at the same time they see how theories about social inequalities have an effect in real life." 

New perspectives
3D printed objects are also used in the Faculty of Science. Voorend printed a series of 'orbitals' in collaboration with two lecturers in the subject of quantum chemistry. The almost 30 centimetre tall 3D models illustrate the area around an atomic nucleus, in which electrons with a certain energy are most likely to be located. The series of six printed orbitals enables students to better imagine the abstract location. These innovative techniques allow new aspects of a subject to be highlighted, enabling students to look at age-old problems from different angles.

Questions about VR or 3D printing? Visit the Tech Lab!

Feel free to contact us

University Library Tech Lab

New University Building
Education Lab, 1A-25
De Boelelaan 1111
1081HV Amsterdam


This is a picture of Linde Voorend. She is team member of Educational Support.