Nov 14, 2015 | By Kira

Most children of the 90’s will remember the final scene of Men in Black, when the camera pulls out to reveal that everything we know and love, our families, neighborhoods, planet, and in fact our entire galaxy, is contained within a mere marble…which giant aliens are using to play an inter-galactic marble game. At the time, the concept blew my mind, and today, a beautiful representation of the universe-within-a-marble concept has been made possible thanks to 3D printing and artist Noa P. Kaplan.

The California-based artist and lecturer in the Design Media Arts Department at UCLA has posted an Instructable detailing how you can 3D print suspended particles in a clear marble, giving the illusion that you are holding the entire universe in the palm of your hand. “I used this technique to create a range of marbles that contain particle cloud formations at a number of orders of magnitude ranging from electron orbitals, to galaxies, and of course, the universe itself,” wrote Kaplan.

The instructions cover particle simulation basics, converting particles to polygons, exporting assemblies, and multi-material 3D printing. Autodesk Maya, an Objet Connex 500 Multi-Material 3D printer, and VeroClearPlus and VeroWhitePlus materials were used to create the mini marble galaxies.

According to Kaplan, the first thing that’s needed is a volume to fill with particles. She chose a sphere, but just about any geometry would work, from simple to complex. She designed the particle arrangement in Autodesk Maya by first creating sphere and then going into FX mode. She then created an emitter and even played around with the gravity function. Step 11 is titled “Capture a moment in Time,” in which she freezes a simulation of the particles being emitted. From the sounds of the Instructable, she may as well have been designing a Star Trek-worthy space tool for NASA.

When it came time to 3D print, she used her Object Studio software and selected VeroClearPlus and VeroWhitePlus materials—two rigid, durable materials provided by Stratasys. After 3D printing on the Objet Connex 500, she suggests either putting the prints in the tumbler or following a separate set of Instructables for polishing resin (here and here).

The final results are mesmerizing, and Kaplan invites users to play around and try to come up with particle visualizations for even more complex geometries, as she will continue to do in the future. “The most complex model was based on Higgs Boson data visualization. The file was so large that it crashed the software a few times before I got it to print. Then when it finally did print, there was an unexpected and fascinating result. The intersection of all of the particles at the center of the marble created a reflective iridescent disc. My hope is that I can control this effect and use it strategically in future prints.”

As an artist, Kaplan uses virtual simulations, physical artifacts and environments to allow her viewers to inhabit her collections. She has shown work at the ACME gallery, and California Nano Systems Institute, among others, and has taught several courses at UCLA including 3D Modeling & Animation.

In a completely different attempt to 3D print the universe, NASA, Shapeways and Whiteclouds are collaboring to 3D print astronomical objects including nebulae and star systems in order to teach astrophysics to the visually impaired. Though we might never know whether or not our galaxy exists within a mere alien marble, 3D printing can nevertheless help us to explore it, understand it, and above all, appreciate its vast, never ending beauty.

Final scene from 1997's Men in Black



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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