Oct.11, 2013

What if you could print out your social network data, for example your twitter followers, your high school classmates with a 3D printer and hold it in your hand? Isn't it brilliant?

Jeff Hemsley, Research Assistant at University of Washington's Information School, has been constantly experimenting with different ways to represent and explore social network data with R. R is a widely used free software programming language and a software environment for data manipulation, graphical presentation and statistical analysis.

Hemsley took his Twitter network data, model it in 3D and then use a 3D printer to make it real. "3D printing offers some interesting opportunities." writes Hemsley. "Being able to touch statistics can make them more engaging and bring instant understanding."

But you do need to know how to code if you want to do the same as Hemsley.

"First, I used the iGraph package to make a network from a edge list, which is simply a two column dataframe that represent the folks retweeting (list 1) and those they retweeted (list 2)," he writes. "Now that I have the network, I can use the features of the igraph package to set the size and colors of the nodes and edges (code not shown, but you can see an example here). Next, I need to make the 3D model."

The plot above shows the full network rendered in the RGL viewport. But Hemsley pointed out this network is a bit too complex for today's 3D printers. "The gossamer thin links won't hold up the nodes." he explains. So he removed smaller nodes by deleting them from the network. That means only power structures in your network can be printed out, but that's exactly what people are interested in.

For the final step - 3D printing, Hemsley created an account at Shapeways, uploaded his file for their automated model checker, and waited for his network to show up in the mail. And the result cost him only about $20.

Networks aren't the only kinds of 3D objects you can make with R. You can design and create any real-world 3D objects with it. Try it yourself! You can find all the info you need on Hemsley's site.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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