Jun 10, 2015 | By Alec

While there are dozens of fun and unusual filaments out there to add some spice to your 3D printing projects, the vast majority of us continues to stick to boring old PLA or ABS. While I’m not advocating a boycott of either, it’s just good to know what can be done when adding a little bit of variety. Why not, for instance, have some fun with glow-in-the-dark PLA filament, as Portuguese engineer João Duarte has done. He has used it to make a very inspiring lava lamp-esque creation consisting of an absolutely inspiring rotating and glow-in-the-dark DNA Helix Lamp.

As João explains to 3ders.org, he is a young electrical and electronics engineer from Algarve, Portugal who absolutely loves technology. ‘I'm a member and also one of the founders of eLab Hackerspace in Faro. I've recently entered the 3D printing world by building my own Prusa i3 and so far I've been learning and evolving a lot,’ he says. He also keeps a personal blog of his fun 3D printed creations, but his DNA Helix Lamp absolutely takes the cake.

As he explains, this lamp was inspired by the traditional lava lamps we all had back in the nineties, but João wanted to put a bit of a different spin on it, and glow-in-the-dark PLA was a perfect solution. ‘I was actually browsing online for 3D objects to test my 3D printer when I found some DNA strands. They looked cool so I tried viewing them from several angles and I noticed it created an amazing and hypnotizing upwards and downwards effect when I rotated the piece. So I thought about designing a lamp, also inspired a bit on the lava lamps as well,’ he says. ‘I thought about using glow in the dark filament to make the DNA Helix stand out when the lights were off. I also thought it would be cool to make the LEDs fade in and out to make a cool visual effect on the DNA, changing from glowing white to green, giving it the weird feeling of a mysterious evil experience or that it is alive somehow.’

Now this would be a bit of challenging project for even the best of us, but João had only just started with the 3D printing hobby. ‘Therefore I didn't have much experience with 3D design, but I also wanted to make this project quickly because I noticed there was an instructables contest about 3D printing and I wanted to be in it,’ he says. With that in mind, he completely relied on Autodesk’s Tinkercad web app for design, which is easy and intuitive to use, but doesn’t at all reflect on the final result of this project. It just goes to show how much can be done with a bit of creativity.

And we have some good news for those of you who want to recreate this amazing project, as João has written up a very detailed Instructables tutorial. But beware: it is quite a complex build featuring lots of electronics and dozens of parts, so it might not be suited for the beginning maker. As he explains, the entire structure essentially revolves around an electric motor that supports and rotates the DNA helix inside an acrylic tube. ‘It has LEDs on top and bottom of the tube, creating a fading effect. Then it has a microcontroller (Arduino) that controls the rotation of the motor and the LEDs. I also added a push button on the front of the lamp which allows the user to switch between different operation modes of the lamp, like turning the rotation motor on or off, and keeping the LEDs fading or always on at full bright or turned off completely, João tells us. If you would like to tackle this yourself, you can find the tutorial here.

However, you will find that the 3D printing phase of the project is quite straightforward. It took João about seven hours to design all the parts, though he has made all of his designs available for us to copy. Relying on his home-made Prusa I3 3D printer and a LulzBot TAZ 4 at his local Hackerspace, he 3D printed most parts in black PLA he had laying around, which incidentally works great in combination with glow in the dark filament. ‘For the DNA helix I wanted to have a weird effect when the LEDs turned off, so I thought it would be very cool to use "Glow in the Dark" PLA filament, that's why it glows green when there is no light,’ 3D printing took about 14 hours, with two printers running simultaneously. Printing settings were fairly straightforward for an average quality, with 20% infill, 0.2 mm of layer height and a speed of 50 to 70 mm/s.

Now most of these parts are fairly easy to 3D print, though the DNA Helix, as a centerpiece deservers some extra attention: ‘It's probably the trickiest part since it's very fragile, has many bridges and requires a lot of retractions during the printing process. I designed it with 4 vertical support columns (already in the 3D model). This part should be printed as resistant as possible, so I increased shell thickness and top/bottom layers,’ João says. However, the 3D printed results are definitely satisfying. ‘After a nice clean with a scalpel and a small pliers, the support material was gone. For the DNA strand this must be done very carefully. Cutting the support columns might force the DNA structure and break it, so I had way more success by melting them with the hot glue gun metal head and then removing the rest with the scalpel. Because the DNA has lots of retractions and bridges, it might end up having lots of stringing (as you can see in the pictures above), however this can also be removed with the scalpel,’ he explains.

With the easy part done, the assembly and electronics await. Now this is a very complicated phase that requires dozens of parts. Most you might have laying around or can salvage from another project; João even took the AC motor (usually the most expensive part of any project) from the rotating platform of an old microwave. However, for the installation just be sure to closely follow the tutorial. ‘We'll be dealing with Alternated Current Mains Voltage, which is extremely dangerous and must be handled with extreme caution!’ João rightly warns us.

However, the result is definitely worth effort, as you can see for yourself in the clip below. ‘But of course, this being a Lamp it will look way cooler in the dark, especially with the glow in the dark DNA Helix. The UV LEDs give this amazing hypnotizing blue and purple glow, perfect for this project! It looks exactly the way I imagined it,’ João says. And we can do nothing but absolutely agree; have you ever seen a more impressive 3D printed lamp? João, meanwhile is already working on his follow-up project, which is also a lamp. We will doubtlessly hear more from him in the near future.

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

 

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Joao Duarte wrote at 8/2/2015 11:57:16 PM:

Thanks Hugo! ;)

Hugo wrote at 6/10/2015 2:05:15 PM:

Great project, congratulations :)



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