Twenty years ago, the thought of “bioprinting” human body parts seemed like the stuff of science fiction. Now it is commonplace, along with such things as using 3-D printing to make musical instruments and to replace parts of damaged coral reefs – a process that would normally take thousands of years.

“3-D printing technology holds answers we have not yet begun to explore,” says Mary Visser, professor of art and holder of the Herman Brown Chair at Southwestern University. “Although the technology is simple in concept, it is evolutionary in what it offers.”

Visser has organized Southwestern’s 37th annual Brown Symposium—“What Things May Come: 3-D Printing in the Fine Arts and Sciences”—which will be held Feb. 26-27, 2015. 

The symposium will focus on how 3-D printing is changing the fields of sculpture, music and medicine. Pioneers in each field will participate, including Anthony Atala, who was the first person to build human organs from scratch; Olaf Diegel, who is using 3-D printing to make musical instruments; and digital sculptors Bruce Beasley, Robert Michael Smith and Christian Lavigne.

Also featured will be a talk by Lisa Crump, co-founder of Stratasys, Inc., a high tech manufacturer of 3D printers used in the medical, electronic, consumer, education and aerospace industries. 

Visser is a pioneer herself in the field of applying 3-D printing to sculpture. Her work has been exhibited around the world, including at an exhibition held in conjunction with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. Visser is currently co-authoring a book on the development of digital sculpture with Christian Lavigne, president of Paris-based Ars Mathematica.

The goal for Brown Symposium XXXVII, Visser says, is to show not only how 3-D printing technology will impact our lives, but also how it is changing the way we think and approach creative solutions. The symposium will conclude with a panel discussion in which all the speakers will discuss how 3-D printing is changing creative thinking in their fields.

Visser chose to focus on sculpture at the symposium because it has the longest history with 3-D technology. She says she is also focusing on music because it has the shortest history with 3-D printing, and regenerative medicine because “it has already begun creating the remarkable.”

In fact, she says, “Much of the hype surrounding 3-D digital printing has been focused on rather mundane objects … that anyone can now make with the aid of a personal printer. What has not been discussed is the printing of things we did not think were possible, such as functioning human organs from your own cells.”

Visser notes that in addition to having the potential to solve major modern-day problems, 3-D printing is being used by archaeologists to learn more about our past. 3-D printing is already a $2.6 billion a year industry and is projected to reach $6.5 billion by 2019.

The symposium will be accompanied by a digital sculpture exhibition that will be on display in the Southwestern Fine Arts Gallery from Feb. 4 through March 4,  with an opening reception to be held on Feb. 26 from 4:30-6 p.m. The exhibition will feature the work of 25 artists from around the world. Also on display in the gallery will be samples of musical instruments that have been made by digital printing, including a piano, violin, drum and guitar.

The Brown Symposium is funded through an endowment established by The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston. The first Brown Symposium was held in 1978.

The symposium is free and open to the public. Speakers and schedule for the 2015 symposium will available here.

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