Borg technology–Moving from 3D printed body parts to 3D printed food for NASA astronauts

3D printer at Maker Faire KC

By C.J. Bunce

Last June we first reported here at on breakthroughs in 3D printing technology allowing scientists to begin creating actual borg replacement body parts–all printed via modern 3D printers.  This included organ printing–actually printing a human jaw bone and soft tissue 3D printed artificial human heart.  Princeton scientists have created a bionic ear via 3D printing, using calf cells, polymer gel, and silver nano particles.  Oxford Performance Materials has used 3D printed plastic to make artificial bones, to replace damaged bones in humans.

Researchers have used 3D printing recently for other novel uses.

King Richard III 3D printed bust

This year Caroline Wilkinson at the University of Dundee in England used a 3D printer to show the world how King Richard III actually looked.  McGill University’s Redpath Museum has used 3D printing to replicate women’s hairstyles from ancient Egyptian mummies.  One group even put together a rudimentary rifle this year that fired a small-caliber bullet.

Make no mistake–3D printing is the technology of the future and this week NASA showed its interest by funding a $125,000 study in printing food.  It’s not a lot of money for a project with such profound possibilities, but it’s a good start.  Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRD) of Austin, Texas, won the contract.  A NASA representative indicated they should be able to get through phase one development with the funds.  SMRD used a prototype to print chocolate via its food synthesizer.  For the sci-fi-minded, think food replicator.

Food printing is not new.  Some news agencies like Fox News have reported in error this week that the NASA-funded project will make the world’s first 3D food printer.  Not so.  The Los Angeles company Sugar Lab and Cornell University researchers have already used 3D printers to make desert products from printed sugar, batter and corn dough.  No doubt several creators demonstrating their 3D printers at Maker Faires have used food products in their printing.

Casein coated frozen pizza
Casein coated frozen pizza–yum!

When you think of the paltry ingredients on some frozen pizzas, it’s easy to imagine using a substance like sodium caseinate–the white, tasteless, odorless protein made from cow’s milk that is the basis of some cheeses and is used to make plastics, adhesives, paints, and other foods–to be easily used to make NASA’s future 3D printed pizzas.

In fact, you can start your own 3D printing now.  Check out this great Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing produced by Make Magazine.  We would wager that NASA could launch a contest across Maker Faire and the creators and contributers at Make Magazine and you would probably get some creative and successful concepts for printing food in space.  Probably even without a stipend or grant.  Who wouldn’t give it their all just for NASA acknowledgement?

Make Magazine Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing

The people at SMRD plan to print a 3D pizza, building the food layer by layer mixing proteins, complex carbohydrates, powders, oils, and other edible materials, with a crust, hydrated tomato sauce, and cheese.  If you’ve seen multi-cartridge color printers than you can imagine the look of the food printer, which will have similar feeding cartridges.  Will the news of this grant prompt other creators, companies, builders, and researchers to get a jump-start on food production?  The implications go beyond outer space–where a mission to Mars could last more than 500 days and require extensive, yet compact, food supplies–to back here on Planet Earth, where over-population and feeding the billions of human inhabitants will only be harder as time marches on.

NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program is funding the grant to SMRD.

If you want to see 3D printing in person, you can visit one of several Maker Faire events across the world over the next several weeks.  Check out this link to find an event near you.  The future is (almost) now.

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