Eight northern Beaufort County teens explored the use of 3-D design software and created plastic models with a 3-D printer during Beaufort Academy's Camp Make and Take.
Beaufort Academy seventh-grader Rahzel Lemott's eyes widened as the three-dimensional model of a rocket ship on his computer screen was built before his eyes just feet away.
"This is really cool," Lemott, 12, said Thursday as a small 3-D printer slowly began to build the rocket ship from the bottom up, adding layer upon layer of plastic filament a millimeter at a time.
Lemott was one of eight northern Beaufort County teens who explored the use of 3-D design software, such as Sketchup and Cubify, and created plastic models with the printer this week during Beaufort Academy's Camp Make and Take.
The camp, held Monday through Friday, is funded in part by a grant from the Beaufort Youth Initiative and is organized by the Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry.
"The hope is that the hands-on experience will inspire students to contemplate careers in design or engineering," said Rebecca W. Bass, Beaufort Academy director of development and alumni relations.
To perform a print, the machine reads the design and lays down successive layers of melted, recyclable PLA plastic in different shapes to build a model up to 5.5 by 5.5 by 5.5 inches. The process takes 20 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the complexity of the model.
"The only limit to what can be produced with a 3-D printer is the student's imagination," said Gina Reilly, Beaufort Academy library director and technology coordinator. "This allows students to develop tangible design and engineering skills.
"It's empowering for a child to understand they can take technology like this and make it something that speaks to them. I think it also supports entrepreneurship, not just creativity."
Some of the students suggested making "BA" cookie cutters or school-themed iPhone covers to sell as a fundraiser.
Lady's Island sixth-grader Stephen Cerrillo, 12, has participated in similar laboratory lessons and projects through the Starbase program at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. But none of those lessons proved as exciting or as fun as working with the 3-D printer, said Cerrillo, who is home-schooled.
"This is a very interesting place where you can come have fun, design and create models in the classroom right before your eyes," Cerrillo said.
Incoming Beaufort County School District superintendent Jeffrey Moss has said he plans to expand student use of technology to engage students and encourage creativity in the classroom.
Battery Creek High School purchased a 3-D printer last year. Students have used it sporadically in engineering and aviation classes offered through Project Lead the Way, a national engineering curriculum that allows students to earn college credit.
This year some "printed" custom shin guards for soccer as a senior project. Students in aerospace engineering also used the printer to create air foils they tested in a wind tunnel.
"We haven't used it as much as we'd like. It's expensive," said Battery Creek Project Lead the Way instructor Mike Allen. "But (we) plan to expand its use next year."