Scientists at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) use Formlabs 3D printers to create a new species of resilient coral that can better withstand changing ocean conditions. As part of its ongoing coral research, the NOAA team relies on innovative methods to study corals in the wild, replicate certain conditions under controlled laboratory conditions, and cultivate new species of corals. .
3D printing of resistant marine parts
Marine biologist Nate Formel and his colleagues at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) rely on four stereolithography (SLA) printers, Formlabs’ Form 2 and Form 3as well as those of the brand Fuse 1 selective laser sintering machine (SLS). With these tools, they print rugged sampler housings, jigs for sensors and experimental equipment, and custom components for their internal aquarium structures designed to study coral fitness and methods to improve coral resilience. to rising water temperatures and the extremes of climate change.
To obtain reproducible and customized parts for coral reef research and monitoring, NOAA researchers chose 3D printing over traditional manufacturing methods to speed up the process and reduce costs. Key to their work is developing waterproof parts that tolerate harsh ocean conditions. This, however, can be expensive. For example, underground automated samplers (SAS) used to continuously check seawater conditions to ensure that water temperature, acidity, light and flow are the same in the laboratory can cost upwards of $1,000 to manufacture. Instead, 3D printing dramatically reduces the price to $220, allowing NOAA to maintain the desired complexity of its research for a fraction of the cost. Additionally, lab equipment such as automatic feeders and stir plates are also 3D printed to withstand splashing water and corrosive salt air.
Additionally, with more affordable methods and less effort, NOAA can replicate its tests more in its labs. By making their 3D printed designs open source, researchers everywhere can use the same technology. As more labs replicate this research, NOAA is gathering stronger data to more effectively develop new coral species.
Underground Automated Sampler for eDNA (SASe) with SLA tips, sample cartridge and internal frame. Image courtesy of NOAA/AOML.
Restoration of ocean habitats
Just as reforestation is essential to help preserve wildlife, coral restoration is a valuable habitat for fish and other marine life, and helps protect coastal infrastructure, especially as the planet has lost half of its coral reefs since 1950. If climate change continues at its current rate and without significant intervention, tropical reef ecosystems could face global extinction by the end of the century.
To combat the effects of climate change, researchers around the world are using new and innovative techniques that can help restore coral reef ecosystems. One such example is the work done by marine biologist Daniel Wangpraseurt of the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Department of Nanoengineering. Turning to bio-printing, Wangpraseurt has developed 3D-printed bionic corals. Additionally, in California, design technologist Alex Schofield is using 3D printing to help save the marine ecosystem by restoring coral reefs that have been negatively impacted by overfishing, pollution, and climate change. Today, many scientists are exploring ways to use 3D printing to create spaces for new corals to thrive.
As colonial organisms, corals are typically made up of thousands or hundreds of thousands of individual polyps, each with a complex consortium of microorganisms that contribute to their health and nutrition. Additionally, reef-building corals secrete calcium carbonate, a hard rock-like material that comprises structures commonly referred to as reef frames or habitats. This habitat and the reef ecosystem it supports are valuable, hosting the highest concentration of biodiversity in the marine realm. Not only are they basic to underwater life, but corals are also extremely valuable to the US economy by helping to support fishing and tourism and by protecting coastlines from wave and storm energy.
At Experimental Reef Lab, each tank has specific controls and requires a custom electronics box. Image courtesy of NOAA/AOML.
NOAA Advanced Manufacturing and Design Laboratory
Understanding the responses of corals and reef biota to global change is central to the work of NOAA’s AOML, and Coral Program Principal Investigator Ian Enochs is leading the way. Based in Miami, Florida, the marine biologist spearheads NOAA Advanced Manufacturing and Design Laboratory, which offers many tools for researchers, including the Formlabs printer suite. Using 3D printing, AOML researchers can quickly prototype and test new applications to help them achieve their research goals. In fact, the use of Formlabs printers has helped standardize and improve the accuracy and comparability of their experiments and facilitated the development of new technologies.
To identify characteristics of corals that will thrive in new, more extreme marine environments, Formel, Enochs and their colleagues are looking for corals that are currently thriving under conditions expected in a more acidified ocean, such as those near volcanic vents. For this task, the team created an SAS to collect water samples from coral reefs to help understand the intensity and variability of the conditions in which these corals live. They even made the design of these samplers open source so that other groups around the world could use this tool and used 3D printing to reduce sampler costs and allow many samplers to be built and deployed without development budgets. significant funding. Additionally, automation allows for synchronized sampling to give researchers an accurate picture of what is happening in the water at different times or locations.
According to Formel, “Automating sampling was an attractive idea to improve our science and improve the ease of doing this science. You can have a synchronized sampling time that shows exactly what is happening in the chemistry of the sample. water at different sites.
This is just one of many projects at NOAA’s AOML Advanced Manufacturing and Design Laboratory. Formal and Enochs are also using 3D printing for environmental DNA samplers for DNA sampling in the water column, a submersible incubation chamber for respiration and calcification analysis, and more Again.
Image courtesy of NOAA.
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