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Making Research Work

Helen Elizabeth Davis, Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, & Thomas Ferrill, Assistant Head of the Creative Spaces. He helped Davis with the 3D printing of the Queensland test using the 3D printers available at the Marriott Library. 

Meet Helen Elizabeth Davis. She’s a postdoctoral fellow in anthropology who is looking for the best method to measure how environment affects cognitive performance in children across the globe. Davis currently works with the Spatial Cognition and Navigation (SCAN) lab to assess the impact of formal education and environmental learning on child development, spatial learning, and problem solving abilities in traditional and transitioning populations.

In addition to measuring navigational abilities, Davis needed a test that could assess problem solving abilities in non-Western populations that, in many cases, have no access to schools and cannot read or write. She connected with library staff to discuss how to go about printing the designs her research team needed – a test that employed three-dimensional pieces, rather than pencil and paper. The test, developed in the 70s in Queensland, Australia, was intended to test the spatial and cognitive abilities in illiterate populations with limited exposure to the Western world (e.g. no cars, no McDonalds, no television). The test consisted of nearly 100 pieces of various geometric shapes and figures that could be manipulated by the research participant in order to solve various problems.

However, there were some issues with the test.  First, there were only a few accessible copies of the available throughout the entire world, and the copies that could be access were owned and archived in research libraries. The copy Davis did manage to access, now almost 50 years old, was no longer suitable for field work and many of the pieces were missing. Further, the test was in Queensland, Australia and so only photographs of the pieces were sent to her. With those photographs and the test manual, Davis had to begin the process of recreating a 3D test from 2D images. Davis had heard that the Marriott Library offered 3D printing services, and reached out. The result? She was able to fabricate designs and replicate the test, which would enable the Queensland test to be deployed for the first time since 1982.

“It was an incredible feeling to see this test I’d only read about produced in 3D and ready to be used. It wouldn’t have been possible without the people and the resources at the Marriott Library.”

The Marriott Library began offering 3D printing services to the University of Utah scholarly community in the Spring of 2013 and continues to take on challenging and exciting projects like Helen Davis’.

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