Understanding the Evolution of the Universe Through 3D Printing

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When you think of the capabilities of 3D-printing technology, you might think of iPad stands, guitars, lawnmowers and cars. However, a physicist from the University of California, Riverside is using the technology to understand the universe a little bit better. How it is structured, 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.”

Aragón-Calvo is trying to develop an automated method to identify and track the cosmic web across time in computer simulations.

“This is usually done by identifying structures at different times and then somehow linking structures in adjacent times,” he said. “Current techniques using this approach are far from optimal.”

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.”

Aragón-Calvo believes that tactile information gained when holding a model of a problem in the hand plays an important role in how we understand the problem.

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