MISSOULA – The chemistry department at the University of Montana has added a new 3-D color printer. The device will help campus researchers visualize molecules, crystals and other structures used in their work.

Chemistry Assistant Professor Orion Berryman directs UM’s Small Molecule X-ray Diffraction Facility. He said full-color 3-D printers still are fairly expensive, and this might be the only one in western Montana.

UM’s Orion Berryman stands before the new 3-D color printer with some of the structures produced by the new research tool. (UM Photo)

Such printers allow users to create objects of nearly any shape, and now the University can produce items in more than one color.

“This provides us with new capabilities not currently available at the University,” Berryman said. “Now we can produce fully colored models that will enhance tactile learning and improved teaching concepts that require an intimate understanding of three-dimensional structure.”

He said the printer cost about $30,000. Funding came from the National Science Foundation, Student Instructional Equipment Funds and the UM Research Administration office.

The printer will be a service of UM’s X-ray diffraction facility. Berryman said researchers will send the facility structures, and they will analyze the structure with an NSF-funded small-molecule single-crystal X-ray diffractometer, which UM installed in 2014. Once the structure is “solved,” the printer can produce a 3-D color model.

“As far as I know, this is a service not available at any other X-ray diffraction facility,” he said. “What’s great is that our students will get hands-on experience with the printer. Ultimately, we will develop a charge-back system where interested people across UM could also use the color 3-D printer for research, teaching and outreach.”

He said the printer also will be used in outreach activities for spectrUM, UM’s hands-on science learning center, which engages over 20,000 annually at its Missoula locations and statewide mobile programming.