Ohio University

Mechanical engineering assistant professor wows audience with dissolving plastics at Science Café

Mechanical engineering assistant professor wows audience with dissolving plastics at Science Café

We live in a world of plastics. From the cups and straws we drink from, to life-enhancing prosthetics, plastics have changed the way we live. And while we’re excellent at manufacturing plastics, we’re not so great at recycling them.

In early March, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Andrew Weems informed and entertained a crowd of students, faculty and community members at Ohio University’s Front Room coffee shop, as he made polystyrene packaging disappear at an OHIO Science Café.

His presentation, “3D Printing a Better Future: Healthcare and Sustainability Considerations,” began with a review of the linear lifecycle of plastics. Polystyrene makes up around 10 percent of plastics produced, and it is rarely recycled. Because 3D printing sustainability. Material is only used where necessary, minimizing waste compared to traditional manufacturing.

When plastics are heated and repurposed, they lose some of their useful properties such as strength and eventually become waste. However, the materials that Weems works with are designed to take on the properties of the polystyrene.

“I’m not damaging the polystyrene,” Weems said while pushing a piece of foam into a beaker of resin. “I’m just moving it into another form so that we can use it better. The 3D printing resin is simply taking on the polystyrene, reinforcing the resin so that what I make is more mechanically robust, more stable and stronger.”

Not only can this plastic be made into implantable medical devices like heart stents, but these devices can be re-recycled.

“Andrew gave a masterful presentation in how to ‘Print for Good,’” said Greg Kremer, Robe Professor and Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “I think his tagline should be ‘saving lives and saving the planet - all in a day's work.’ His work to make 3D printing a circular process is so cool. I think it will attract young students into engineering and science.” 

You can watch a recording of Weems’ full presentation at this link.