Physicist uses 3D-printing technology to understand how the universe has evolved

December 14, 2015 by Iqbal Pittalwala
UC Riverside physicist Miguel Aragón-Calvo uses 3D-printing technology to understand how the universe has evolved. Credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

3D-printing technology has been used to create everything from iPad stands to guitars to lawnmowers and cars. Now a physicist at the University of California, Riverside is using the technology to understand the universe – its structure, 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."

Recently, Aragón-Calvo was 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 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 came to UC Riverside in 2013. Before that he was an assistant research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, Md., which is where he also completed his postdoctoral research. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Groningen, Netherlands. His areas of interest include analysis, , and data mining/visualization.

The video will load shortly

"I often 'play' with 3D models of galaxies in their early stages in order to get new ideas on how gas gets injected into them to produce stars," Aragón-Calvo said. "This has been very helpful in developing a model of galaxy formation that I will soon submit to a peer-reviewed journal."

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.

"Babies learn by observing and touching, even placing objects in their mouth in order to gain more information," he said. "By touching a 3D-printed model, by turning it over in your hands, we can often acquire the kind of information that our visual sense alone cannot provide."

Explore further: The cosmic evolution of galaxies

Related Stories

The cosmic evolution of galaxies

May 11, 2015

Our knowledge of the big bang has increased dramatically in the past decade, as satellites and ground-based studies of the cosmic microwave background have refined parameters associated with the very early universe, achieving ...

It's filamentary: How galaxies evolve in the cosmic web

November 20, 2014

How do galaxies like our Milky Way form, and just how do they evolve? Are galaxies affected by their surrounding environment? An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the University of California, Riverside, ...

Study explains why galaxies stop creating stars

July 8, 2016

Galaxies come in three main shapes - elliptical, spiral (such as the Milky Way) and irregular. They can be massive or small. To add to this mix, galaxies can also be blue or red. Blue galaxies are still actively forming stars. ...

Hubble peers into the mouth of Leo A

April 18, 2016

At first glance, this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image seems to show an array of different cosmic objects, but the speckling of stars shown here actually forms a single body—a nearby dwarf galaxy known as Leo A. Its ...

Recommended for you

Stars born in winds from supermassive black holes

March 27, 2017

Observations using ESO's Very Large Telescope have revealed stars forming within powerful outflows of material blasted out from supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. These are the first confirmed observations ...

Supersonic plasma jets discovered

March 27, 2017

Information from ESA's magnetic field Swarm mission has led to the discovery of supersonic plasma jets high up in our atmosphere that can push temperatures up to almost 10 000°C.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.