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Touch the invisible: 3D-printed
macromolecular complexes

Visualization of macromolecular systems aids in our understanding of the basic principles governing cell function, from storage of genetic information, to production of cellular components, to communication between different parts of the body. An inherent challenge when studying nanoscopic structures is their invisibility. Scientists infer the shapes of biomolecules from exposing molecular crystals to beams of X-rays and applying complex mathematical models to analyze the diffraction patters. In our project, we combine the crystallography data with 3D-printing technology to build scientifically accurate models of molecular complexes and use them in undergraduate biology and biochemistry courses. Through classroom applications we engage students in multisensorial learning experience at deep cognitive and perceptual levels that other types of molecular visualizations do not provide. When holding a molecular complex in your hand, you can study the 3D-shape from different angles, find the functional groups enabling specific intra and inter molecular binding, or examine grooves and crevices allowing the structural domains to combine in a macromolecular structure. We constructed a variety of models using different polymeric materials, and developed teaching modules that exemplify basic principles of molecular interactions, macromolecular assembly, and the use of genetic information in the production of cellular components.



  • Joe McCarthy
  • Meghan Culpeper
  • Zuzana Swigonova
  • Laura Zapanta
  • Colin Bashline
  • William Strang
  • Richard Fang
  • Grant Daskivich