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Prof Cooks receives unique 3-D gift


Writer(s): Steve Scherer

Photo of Cooks bustProfessor R. Graham Cooks received a unique gift from his research group recently. It is a life-size bust created on a custom-made 3-D printer by alumni group member Zane Baird.

Cooks humorously refers to the sculpture as ‘him.’ “Reaction has been pretty amazing especially when I unveiled him at a meeting of the analytical faculty this week and there were hoots and hollers and much applause,” he said.

The belated Christmas gift was presented when Cooks thought he was attending a scheduled one-on-one meeting with Baird, but instead the whole group was there with the surprise. “I was floored. What talent indeed,” said Cooks.

Baird, who uses 3-D printing technology to build components for his analytical chemistry research, got the idea to make the bust a couple years ago after advising the Purdue 3-D Printing Club on how to prepare 3-D scans. “I shared the idea with (fellow Aston Labs group member) Alan Jarmusch, and he came up with a good way to trick Graham into letting us take a 3D scan of him so he wouldn't know our true motivation,” said Baird, who received his Ph.D. last November and currently works at Siemen's Healthcare in Elkhart, Indiana.

Starting with the 3-D scan data, Baird sculpts in a program called Meshmixer. “This was a fairly intensive task as the 3-D scanner does not pick up a lot of detail, so I referred to pictures of Graham to slowly modify the file to a point that I was happy with the detail,” he explained.

In the next step, he splits the 3-D model into six pieces that are printed using a material called Bronzefill. After 72 hours of printing, Baird assembles the 2 kg of individual components using superglue and filling in the seams using a cheap soldering iron and leftover plastic material.

The final steps involve meticulous sanding-out of the layer lines, coarse steel wool to polish the surface bringing out the character of the bronze particles in the plastic, applying a patina spray, and a final protective clear wax to prevent further oxidation.

Cooks says his wife Maria and his sons have given the bust universal praise. “I dress him in a different hat each day and a scarf to keep him warm, along with an old pair of glasses,” he said.