Friday, September 28, 2012


Click on any photo for a larger image

I was passing what used to be one of my favourite shops, Lennox Chemicals, in Clare St., Dublin, when I noticed a new makeover. Lennox has long closed and one half of it is inhabited by Insomnia Coffee from a while back. The other half is now taken over by Makeshop. So I went in for a look.

This is an extension of the shop attached to TCD's Science Gallery. But it is more than just a shop selling little artefacts that illustrate scientific principles. It is a workshop which invites individuals or groups to come along and have a go at making science stuff themselves.

The fist thing that attracted my attention was a 3D printer (above). I sort of knew these existed but it was all a bit of a mystery and I really hadn't got my head around it. In fact I was residually sceptical about the whole thing.

But now, here was one in front of me. How did it work and what could it produce? Did it bear any relation to the coffee/food machine in Startrek, for example?

It turned out to be a fascinating object. In this particular one, a thin string of plastic (above) is fed down from the top to the printer head which is fixed but under which is a platform which can move in all directions (below).

As the plastic is fed downwards the platform's movements are directed by a sort of CAD programme in the computer to which the printer is hooked up. The object is then slowly built up, layer after layer.

This is a 3D version of the impossible knot (above) and small bust of a lady (below). They were a little difficult to photograph with my particular camera (obligatory automatic focus) but you can take it from me that they were extraordinary little objects.

If you look closely you can see the individual layers in the final product.

If you want, you can increase the "resolution" and the layers are then much thinner, until, like your favourite piece of calculus, they approach zero thickness, you can no longer see the layers and the result looks like a normal plastic object with a perfectly smooth surface. Magic.

From there I went up to the Science Gallery itself and spent most of the afternoon there checking out the demonstrations of the properties of new nano materials. Well worth while dropping in.

I was back in the shop for a second visit (18/10/12) and found another item in the window. It was a representation of Dublin City centre, made up of electronic components on a great big motherboard. It really made me smile, and is well worth dropping into the shop to see, if you get a chance. The pictures below can be enlarged by clicking on them.

You can see the Phoenix Park at the near bottom left of the board, and at the very far end the Pigeon House chimneys (before decommissioning!). The Spire is about two thirds way up towards the centre, and just behind it is Liberty Hall, the Beckett Bridge and the National Conference Centre.

A more look down view of the central section of the board. At bottom right is the Guinness brewery with the Tower. The thin blue and white wires snaking up the centre is the River Liffey. The brown rectangle two thirds way up on the right is an autumnal St. Stephen's Green with Merrion Square Park just beyond it on it's left. The Aviva Stadium (Landsdown Road to you) is at top right, while Croke Park is two thirds way up on the left.

This is just to give you an idea of the quality and imagination which has gone into this. The Beckett Bridge with the National Conference Centre behind it.

And this is a straight overhead view which may be easier to relate to the map. The blue line across the centre is the Liffey. The Phoenix Park is in the top left hand corner and the Aviva Stadium in the bottom right.

Today's Halloween Workshop: Crochet yourself a Pumpkin

I'm looking forward to my next visit to this wonderful Aladdin's Cave.


  1. The Guardian had an article recently about another application of 3D printing:


  2. Thanks Brian. I'll check it out.

  3. Yes, if I read the Guardian correctly, some guy used a 3D printer to make a gun, and actually fired it? (I mean, without killing himself, or the thing exploding or whatever ...) Very scary thought!

  4. There's nothing new under the Sun.

    While that's true, there is still a lot there to be discovered, and as I said, the Science Gallery is a fascinating place and Makeshop looks like great fun.

    But one thing that struck me very strongly as I looked around the various products on sale was how many of them were familiar from my youth. The packaging was a little different, reflecting today's culture, but the products themselves were the same and illustrated some of the simple principles of physics which made our lives such fun in the “old days”.

    The Drinking Ostrich: the one you put a glass of water in front of and it swivels down to dip it's beak in it and then straightens up again.

    The Gyroscope: both individual self standing and on a rail.

    Little spinning top: that upends during the spin.

    Slinkey: sort of coil that comes down the stairs.

    Love Thermometer: put your hand around the bulb and see how hot you are (how high the red liquid rises agains a card measuring “hotness”). This is now a blue liquid and no talk of love.

    Rubber band driven balsawood glider: self-explanatory

    Executive Hanging Balls: Newton's transfer of motion.

    Potty Putty: short-term = putty, long term = liquid. [They didn't have this as a toy but a more sophisticated version of it in the new materials demo.]

    Diver in the Bottle: little diver in a plastic bottle full of water. Squeeze the bottle and he dives, release and he rises. You could make these yourself in the old days. Now there is a sophisticated diver with weights.

    No sign of -

    The Pharoe in the Coffin: You put a little plastic pharoe in a coffin. Take him out and hand him and the coffin to your friend who will not be able to make him stay in the coffin.

    Zero Gravity: container where little plastic beads appeared to defy gravity. (done with static)

  5. Subsequent post on the zero gravity thing here.