A 3D printed universe in your hand
3D-printing technology has been used to create everything from iPad stands to guitars to lawnmowers and cars. Now a physicist at the University of California, Riverside is using the technology to understand the universe – its structure, the evolution of cosmic structures within it, and galaxy formation.
“These problems in cosmology are very difficult to visualize, even using computer graphics,” said Miguel Aragón-Calvo, a visiting assistant researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “By 3D-printing them I am able to interact directly with the models and ‘see’ the problem at once. In some cases this results in ‘eureka’ moments.”
Recently, Aragón-Calvo was trying to develop an automated method to identify and track the cosmic web across time in computer simulations. By 3D-printing a simpler 2D simulation and assigning the third dimension to time he realized that this was in fact the solution to his problem.
“Tridimensional cosmic structures can be easily identified and tracked as four-dimensional objects where time is taken as another spatial variable,” he said. “Even though I had visualized the cosmic web many times before in the computer screen, the solution only became obvious once I held the model in my hand.”