(Posted March 14, 2019)
By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer
West Jefferson High School senior Nathaniel Dersom is using innovative, three-dimensional (3D) printer technology to create adaptors converting standard classroom microscopes into digital devices via a camera and computer.
A new digital microscope can cost $400 or more. The printed parts designed by Dersom cost under $1. When coupled with a new document camera, computer and microscopes already owned by the district, the cost is $100 for technology that would otherwise cost hundreds of dollars.
“The district has 13 regular microscopes that they use in science class,” said Curt Dennis, technology director. “This is a huge savings for the district, and we have a better product and larger screen than you get from digital microscopes you can purchase.”
Two 3D printers, software and supplies were acquired at no cost from a grant Dennis wrote last summer. More than a dozen adaptors are needed to outfit the standard microscopes and each one takes 3.5 hours to print.
“These printers have been a great addition to our high school/middle school Innovation Center and the students have really been excited to create projects and watch them be printed,” Dennis said.
“We’ve had projects range from hall passes, to pencil holders, to this microscope adaptor, and it’s great to see the students use their creativity and solve problems that they discover.”
Dennis said Dersom worked on the project without any staff assistance. One working variation was first printed, but the 18-year-old, who wants to pursue a career in engineering research and development, tweaked the design to end up with the final product.
Dersom became involved with the project when he was printing 3D parts in the library for a transmission prototype. The high school librarian asked if he could design a holder that would connect to student Chromebooks.
“They already had a camera picked out, so I just used the specifications sheet for the measurements to make my design,” said Dersom, a National Merit Commended Scholar who scored a perfect 36 on the ACT.
“It took about three different trials to get the fractional measurements right (less than 1-millimeter adjustments). This was especially due to the barrel diameter which slides onto the microscope’s eyepiece. All in all, it took about seven hours of work for me to get to the final design and about a month overall.”
Dersom said he has no intention to file for a patent on the adapter, but he is letting the high school use the design as they want and possibly will allow other schools to do the same.
“3D printing has near limitless possibilities of design complexity,” Dersom pointed out.
“In the past, prototypes were made of wood, which has grain and can split easily, or of metal, which is costly. Printing also is very quick and cheap. The total time to print the adapter is about four hours, as I remember. One kilogram of plastic—about 2.2 pounds—costs only about $12.”
When he isn’t designing printable technology, Dersom is active in sports, music and theater. He plays soccer, tennis and served as kicker for the football team. He is a cast member of the high school’s upcoming production of “Seussical: The Musical.”
“We empower students to find an issue or problem that they could solve with the 3D printer to help the building, district, or an individual teacher,” Dennis said. “Once a student has a design, that’s when we work with them to get it printed and see if it works.”