As an undergraduate student, current UTSC graduate student Annabel Wing-Yan Fan was first introduced to 3D printing at the UTSC Library Makerspace.
Tuesday, January 7 - 2020
Raquel A. Russell

How do you select that perfect cookie from a fresh batch? What makes one object more attractive to handle than another?

That question of perception is part of what Annabel Wing-Yan Fan set out to answer in her master’s thesis. The study, done in the Visual Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory in the Department of Psychology, looks at how the influence of ensemble processing on visually-guided motor behaviour engages research on grasping and ensemble perception. This crucial act determines how we make quick judgments about different types of objects in our surroundings.

“In your everyday life, you’re often dealing with groups of objects and visual clutter in your environment,” says Fan, a graduate student at U of T Scarborough. “Our lab essentially focuses on how the brain perceives groups of objects that share visual similarities.”

To complete this research, Fan modelled 3D cylinders that participants would be asked to grasp. To do this, she revisited the UTSC Library Makerspace – a creative studio located within the front of the UTSC Library.

UTSC Makerspace
The UTSC Library Makerspace is often an entry point for U of T Scarborough students, staff and faculty into 3D printing and several new technologies and software.

Fan, who completed her Neuroscience undergraduate degree at U of T Scarborough, first became aware of the space when it was converted from the Library Circulation Desk into the multi-use space it is today.

“I had a chance to sign up for the Makerspace orientation during my undergraduate studies,” she says.  “I quickly printed one thing and thought, ‘okay, I’ve tried that now.’”

Like many students, faculty and staff that visit the UTSC Library Makerspace, Fan didn’t have a lot of 3D modelling experience and began printing creations through open access sites such as Thingiverse.

“My first print was a [Pokémon] Bulbasaur,” she says.

Soon, Fan began to see how the Makerspace could support her beyond quick personal projects when she learned 3D objects would be required for her master’s study. Initially, she 3D-printed one model for her burgeoning research but quickly returned to print over 20 models, making use of the Makerspace’s blocked off Friday hours for academic use only.  After designing and printing the prototypes, she then took the project to a local 3D print shop for mass production.

The Makespace exists to support academic work by providing access to a variety of technologies – such as 3D printers, iMac computers, speciality software, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, button makers and even sewing machines.

“It has been designed to turn creative ideas into realities, by making the resources to do so available and accessible,” says Interim UTSC Chief Librarian Angela Hamilton.

Annabel Wing-Yan Fan (centre) and fellow graduate students with 3D printed models that supported Fan’s master’s thesis.

Since it launched in September of 2016, over 1000 students, staff and faculty have completed the one-time introductory orientation sessions – a must-have to use the equipment and space.

Today, Fan has completed her master’s thesis, and as she looks back at her experience in the Makerspace, she encourages all students to take advantage of the resources.

“Turning ideas into a reality is an important skill to have in any type of graduate studies,” she says. “You need to be able to engineer and design and you can do that in the Makerspace.”

Currently, all equipment in the Makerspace operates free of charge (a small fee will be introduced to non-academic 3D prints in 2020). Learn more about the UTSC Library Makerspace at UofT.Me/Makerspace.

Learn more about 3D printing at U of T Libraries: