IYCr 2014

Shapes that run the world

From ACA RefleXions, Spring 2013

[Model] Photo from Molecular Graphics Laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute.

With the celebration of the International Year of Crystallography, the time is ripe to create models to let the world experience the beauty of molecular complexity and help the public to see the shapes of life-saving drugs and molecular machinery. Many laboratories and department machine shops are acquiring 3D printers at a typical cost of $30–$50k but you can build your own from a $2k kit. As an alternative to having your own printer, several groups provide 3D printing services on an at-cost basis for academic sites using user-supplied descriptor files, for example the Scripps Inst. (http://models.scripps.edu/) and 3D Molecular Designs (http://www.3dmoleculardesigns.com).

George Phillips used PyMOL to generate a descriptor file of the unit cell of one of his structures which was printed with a Z-corp printer in the departmental shop at the U. of Wisconsin; more examples are at www.molecular-sculpture.com/PDBweb/GP-Rice. A commercial service can be found at http://www.shapeways.com/create.

Istvan Botos alerted me to a service offered by Staples in Germany: send them a .obj, .stl or .wrl file (and some Euros) and they will print your model for you. What could be easier? Even though it is a challenge to choose descriptive parameters such that the beauty of the molecule is properly expressed, it is well worth the effort and helps fulfill our obligation to demonstrate to the world that crystallography is also an art form.

Edgar Meyer