Oct 28, 2016 | By Tess

While the universe can seem so big, it has never looked so small! A team of researchers from Imperial College London have 3D printed a super miniature scale version of our universe which you can actually hold in your hand.

The 3D printed object, which is about the size of a softball, is actually a tiny version of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). CMB, for those unfamiliar with physical cosmology, refers to the thermal radiation left over from the Big Bang cosmology. In fact, it is the earliest radiation that has been detected by scientists, as it dates back to when our universe was only 380,000 years old. Now, thanks to many advanced instruments, and to the Planck satellite in particular, we can visualize much of the CMB, and scientists have even created maps of it which have helped them to better understand how the universe was formed.

CMB map in 2D

To make visualizing these complex CMB maps a bit easier for scientists and the public, Dr. Dave Clements from the Department of Physics at Imperial College has initiated the 3D printed CMB project. The research, which was conducted with the help of two final-year undergraduate Physics students, was recently published in the European Journal of Physics under the title “Cosmic sculpture: a new way to visualise the cosmic microwave background”.

But why 3D print the universe in micro-form? As Dr. Clements explains, having a physical model of the CMB maps is a great tool for helping to understand the CMB in a more tactile, hands-on way. Primarily, he cites the 3D model’s potential for teaching and outreach work, especially for those with visual impairments.

He explains, “Differences in the temperature of the CMB relate to different densities, and it is these that spawned the formation of structure in the universe—including galaxies, galaxy clusters and superclusters. Representing these differences as bumps and dips on a spherical surface allows anyone to appreciate the structure of the early universe. For example, the famous ‘CMB cold spot’, an unusually low temperature region in the CMB, can be felt as a small but isolated depression.”

Excitingly, you can actually 3D print your very own tiny universe, as the research team has made their 3D files available to the public through Zenodo. Currently, two different models are available for 3D printing: a monochrome version for single extrusion 3D printers, and a multi-color model, which represents temperature differences with color and texture. The 3D files for the CMB models can be downloaded here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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