The exchange is a wealth of data for physicians to use in their quest to visualize diseases via medical imaging data, and the NIH says it wants students and teachers to take full advantage of the library in their work towards STEM education.

The NIH 3D Print Exchange aims to be no less of a resource than the go-to site for bioscientific and biomedical 3D models which, it just so happens, are 3D print ready.

The exchange is already a wealth of data for physicians to use in their quest to visualize diseases via medical imaging data, and the NIH says it wants students and teachers to take full advantage of the library in their work towards STEM education.

Working in partnership with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and the National Library of Medicine, the NIH 3D Print Exchange will include scripts which can take 3D medical data and transform it into 3D printable files with the UCSF Chimera software suite.

Darrell Hurt, Ph.D., the head of the Computational Biology Section of the Bioinformatics and Computational Biosciences Branch at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), focuses his work on computational structural biology, protein folding, docking, and molecular dynamics. But it is Hurt's expertise in 3D printing, visualization, and modeling which may well prove to be a breakthrough moment for students and researchers around the world.

Influenza model and build by Darrell Hurt

It was Hurt's postdoctoral work in lipid signaling and cell trafficking using X-ray crystallography which ultimately led to the free service to print custom 3D printable molecules. Hurt says that as it took him no small measure of time to make it happen, he was troubled that the technique required a fairly rare level of computer expertise to come up with a satisfactory result.

The core idea, while it centered on giving experts from various fields tools to transform data into 3D printable files, was to simplify the software.

That's why Hurt and the team at NIH came up with a method for users to upload data sets ranging from structural biology data to the output of microscopy, turning them into files which are available – in the public domain – and free for anyone to browse or download.

To allay any fears from contributors that their work might be abused, Hurt says the system does provide a level of data protection via Creative Commons licensing.