Senior Project: Sara Stewart’s 3D Printed Human Heart

DSC_5001 For Innovation Lab @Ross student Sara Stewart ’16, biology and human anatomy are a major interest, so it’s no surprise that for her Senior Project she decided to combine this passion with her technical abilities to create a 3D printed human heart.

The idea for the heart evolved from her Innovation Lab project in sophomore year, for which she replaced the missing bones in the skeleton in the eighth grade classroom with 3D printed parts, and was then inspired to add organs so students could view the complete inner workings of the human system.

For her Senior Project, Sara explained, “I wanted to challenge myself, so I opted to work with actual MRI files and construct the heart using 3D modeling software.” The first hurdles were securing the medical files and finding the appropriate software to turn the MRI data into a 3D object. After a frustrating period of trial and error, she found OsiriX, an image processing software, and created an amazing 3D image of the heart—complete with the network of blood vessels, such as arteries, veins, and capillaries.

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Working with the Innovation Lab’s 3D printer, she created small renderings of the heart, and is currently working with them to figure out how to best model the heart in “slices” to show the very complicated workings of the organ. She expects to print the final version of the human heart to scale before the Thanksgiving break.

Her project does not end there, however. She is also developing a high school–level study guide for the heart in both English and Spanish. She’s getting help for both parts of the project from mentors Dr. David Morgan, director of Innovation Lab, and World Languages and Literature teacher Erica Martinelli.

Asked what she thinks of the experience so far, Sara said, “I think it’s definitely exceeded my expectations. Initially, I didn’t think I would be able to print it, because of the many intricate details involved.”

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Her Senior Project is a good primer for next year, when she plans to pursue a nursing degree in college, perhaps at San Diego State University. She said she always knew she would go into medicine. Initially, she thought she would be a surgeon, but changed to nursing because she is also interested in the compassionate side of the profession. “The human interaction and opportunity to spend time with patients to offer care and comfort is very important to me,” she said. There’s no doubt she’s on a path to make a difference.