13 Jun 2014

Using a new toy to teach inorganic chemistry

Submitted by Barbara Reisner, James Madison University

Ever since they’ve come out, I’ve been eyeing 3-D printers. We’re fortunate to have several at JMU; some of my colleagues even teach general education courses where students learn to use these to build whatever they want. Ever since we saw an article about them in C&EN, a colleague of mine and I have been talking about finding a way to use them. We like the idea of designing our own microreactors and other laboratory toys.

I haven’t started playing around with building reactors for my lab, but I have to get myself to a 3-D printer to make models when I teach symmetry next spring. Scalfani & Vaid have an ASAP article in J. Chem. Educ. about using 3-D printed models for teaching symmetry and point groups. They’ve outlined how to go from a cif file to one that can be read by a 3-D printer.

This doesn’t look like a cheap activity, but I think it would be fun to do with students. Personally, I’d like to have the perovskite structure in my office.

What’s your favorite molecule? What would you print?

p.s. There are a number of articles on teaching inorganic chemistry in J. Chem. Educ. this month. I added the article by Green and Parkin on teaching CBC in inorganic chemistry to my must read list.


That's pretty cool. I hope you will post pictures of whatever model you build.

we have one on campus too, in engineering... hoping to get a 3D model of the protein that I work on soon.


We've been trying to publish a paper on this for over 6 months, based on work we've been doing for the fast 3-4 years.


I would recommend an Up! printer, many molecules and objects will be unprintable without support material and this is the only one (that I know of) that will do this.

Our engineering department has one and I've always wondered what I could print. I don't know why I didn't think about printing an ORTEP...

I've printed out ferrocene (eclipsed and staggered), cyclopropane, and a buckyball on ours so far! I am really enjoying it and hope to do more. 

FYI here's a good walkthrough on making the files: