Why Doesn’t Radio Shack Sell 3D Printers?
Jun11

Why Doesn’t Radio Shack Sell 3D Printers?

About a year ago, I decided the best deployment of unused capital in my Scottrade account was to purchase shares of Radio Shack. My investment thesis was this: 1) I bought a TRS-80 there 30 years ago. 2) I made guitar effects pedals using Radio Shack parts there about 20 years ago. That’s it. The whole idea was predicated on nostalgia. I’m in the red thus far. I have learned a lot about Radio Shack—the business side, not where they keep the capacitors—after the fact. (The capacitors are in a metal case with pull out drawers near the back.) For instance, the profit center of the company is the stuff you normally think of when you think of Radio Shack: The thing that connects one electronic gizmo to another, like when you are installing an entertainment center. The problem is there isn’t much growth in that business. The growth comes from smart phones and the like. The problem here is that the profits here are slimmer and Radio Shack has too much competition. This is where 3-D printers come in and why my griping about Radio Shack is relevant to chemistry. I’ve written about 3-D printing in the past. It is, essentially, a new technique for processing plastics. To make a part, one doesn’t need a costly mold. But the tradeoff is that the user can’t make many of the same part very efficiently. Thus, the technique is ideal for designers to make prototypes. And 3D printing also holds promise for hobbyists and tinkerers of all kinds, especially when firms such as 3D Systems are offering machines for as little as $1,300. It would seem like Radio Shack would be an ideal retailer for 3D printers and, perhaps more importantly, the consumables involved: cartridges of acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene and polylactic acid. 3D printers are today very much like ham radios were 40 years ago and computers were 30 years ago: outlets for curiosity and creativity. 3D Printers are also cool. Who wouldn’t be fascinated seeing a 3D printer in a store, perhaps churning out a new object right before your eyes in a demonstration? Why, people might even walk into Radio Shack deliberately to see a 3D printer up close. It would be the first time the store had a draw since it did away with the Battery Club. But there is a first retailer getting into the 3D printing business with 3D Systems printers: Staples. Is that a good fit? I suppose. They sell toner and report covers. It is the store of last resort for Blue Fun Tak in early September. I think Radio Shack would have been better,...

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This Week on CENtral Science: Whale Fossils, Oscar Noms, UC Davis bailout, and more
Feb22

This Week on CENtral Science: Whale Fossils, Oscar Noms, UC Davis bailout, and more

Tweet of the Week: I've been thinking about it, and I've decided that getting a Ph.D. is like trying to run a marathon while you're up to your waist in water.— Emily Mason (@ejmaso05) February 21, 2013 On to the network: Artful Science: Two million-year-old whale fossils printed with 3D technology Grand CENtral: Guest Post: “Science, the human endeavor” by Biochem Belle Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots and Need A Centrifuge? Print One Out and I’d Like To Thank The Academy, Nay, Harvey Weinstein The Safety Zone: A brief Friday chemical safety round-up The Watchglass: When TSCA was a bill and Wire Suit and Chemistry...

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Need A Centrifuge? Print One Out
Feb22

Need A Centrifuge? Print One Out

In this week’s issue of C&EN, I wrote about how 3-D printing fever has taken hold of some folks in academia. Sure, scientists and engineers COULD keep a 3-D printer in the lab strictly for printing out a molecular model, a prototype, or even an intricate lab logo. But they're starting to do much more with the machines. As Lee Cronin, a chemist at Scotland’s University of Glasgow, told me, in the early days of 3-D printing, “people thought it was cool but gimmicky.” Now, though, they’re beginning to use the technique to solve problems, he added. In the story, I describe how some scientists have used 3-D printers to make lab equipment such as centrifuges, funnels, lab jacks, and electrophoresis gel combs. These early adopters claim that the machines, which build solid objects layer by layer from materials like plastics and ceramic powders, can save labs thousands of dollars. And, they say, 3-D printers help foster an open-access scientific community that will speed the progress of research. One research group I didn’t get to mention in my story is that of Simon J. Leigh, a chemist-turned-engineer at the U.K.’s University of Warwick. Leigh and his team are developing new materials for 3-D printers, with the goal of eventually incorporating them into devices for the lab and beyond. For instance, late last year, the researchers published a PloS One paper detailing how they concocted “carbomorph,” a material made of the thermoplastic polycaprolactone and 15 wt% carbon black. “The aim of the project was to develop a material that could go into a printer that’s off the shelf,” Leigh says. In addition to being electrically conductive, carbomorph had the added benefit of being extrudable by a standard low-cost 3-D printer (they used a Bits from Bytes 3000). Leigh’s team demonstrated that the substance could also be incorporated into several devices. One of these instruments was an electronic interface. The researchers added carbomorph buttons to an electrical circuit: When a user pressed one of them, its capacitance increased and triggered an electrical signal. Being able to embed sensors like these anywhere on a device rather than adding them on at defined spots in post-production could be extraordinarily useful, Leigh says. In one, perhaps gimmicky, example, Leigh and his team printed sensor buttons into a video-game controller. “But there’s no reason why the same process could not be used to make custom interfaces for scientific equipment,” he says.   In 2011, the research team also developed a magnetic material for 3-D printing that it used to manufacture a flow sensor. Specifically, the scientists added magnetite nanoparticles to a resin matrix and printed a tiny...

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Amusing News Aliquots
Feb08

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week's science news, compiled by Sophia Cai and Bethany Halford Chemistry lab work can be tough. There are smelly solvents and reactions with the potential to explode. But at least you don’t have to worry about how you’ll feed the bedbugs. [PopSci] Middle school science fair projects have gotten legit. Thirteen-year-old sends Hello Kitty to the stratosphere and back, with a video camera along for the ride. [Cosmic Log/NBC News] Lusty male moth drives robot car towards the scent of his lady love, refuses to ask for directions. [Forbes] The recently unearthed bones of Richard III beg the question: What’s the Shelf Life of DNA? [Slate] Perhaps Ethan Hawke’s character from "Gattaca" isn’t the only one who should be paranoid -- someone’s 3-D printing faces with your discarded DNA. [iO9] Forget your umbrella? Spray your clothes with Ultra Ever Dry, a superhydrophobic and oleophobic nanotech coating (Um, actually, we're not sure you should spray this on your clothes, but there's a cool video)....

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Amusing News Aliquots
May17

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week's science news. Compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf. Ever thought it might be fun to eat a chocolate replica of your own brain? This guy did. + video [Instructables] When dropped on the floor, dry foods such as biscuits pick up less bacteria than hydrated foods such as pasta. So the 10,000-second rule applies to that piece of popcorn you’ve been stashing under the couch. [LA Weekly] And you thought you had it tough as a graduate student. Just imagine what life was like back in 1983 for the folks who characterized the odorous components of swine manure. [Discoblog] Things to ask Santa for: A vending machine that distributes gloves, chemicals, and NMR tubes. [Chemistry Blog] Highway engineers meet your new bosses: Slime mold could have designed America’s interstate system. [NY Times] Hooray for science. Brain implant allows paralyzed woman to move a robotic arm with her thoughts....

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