3D Stuckeman exhibit

To infinity and beyond. Well, maybe just to Mars and back for now.

Colonizing the red, rocky planet may seem like a futuristic and far away accomplishment for the human race, but research on how to create lasting infrastructure on Mars has found its place at Penn State.

Now on display until Jan. 19, the public can witness how one team of Penn State students and faculty were able to forge a concrete plan to craft buildings on Mars through a new exhibit on display at the Willard G. Rouse Gallery in the Stuckeman Family Building.

“From Earth to Mars and Back” dives into the interdisciplinary research this team, called Den@Mars, used to compete in the 2019 NASA 3D-Printed Mars Habitat Challenge. The competition, which included almost 80 international teams, focused on creating sustainable and efficient extraterrestrial housing through 3D printing.

The exhibit hosts a collection of photographs, teaching materials, documentary-style videos, architectural models, research experiments and prototypes of 3D-printed structures made from concrete.

Shadi Nazarian, associate professor of architecture and a leading faculty member of Den@Mars, said her work has primarily focused on developing 3D printing using glass and concrete in gradual progressions. To produce such a structure though, she said it was vital to first work on creating large-scale concrete 3D printing, like the kind used in the NASA challenge.

By participating in the challenge, Nazarian said this area of research was greatly accelerated, and the Stuckeman School is now a leader in the emerging field.

“And so then came along the opportunity to participate in that NASA 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge competition. And we used the competition to really accelerate this research,” Nazarian said. “We’ve been able to, since 2017, really bring it up to a different level — we're at the forefront of developing the technology.”

José Duarte, Stuckeman chair in design innovation and director of the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing, was another leading faculty member of Den@Mars and helped the team secure its second place title and a reward of $150,000.

Using funding from the competition, as well as donations, Duarte said the team was able to further develop its current Additive Construction Lab, a collaborative effort between the College of Arts and Architecture and the College of Engineering to expand research on additive manufacturing.

But constructing machine-made buildings on celestial bodies isn’t the only focus of the research behind this exhibit. According to Duarte, improving large-scale concrete 3D printing plays a substantial role in providing care for people experiencing homelessness or housing disparities.


In creating safer and more efficient means of building through 3D printing, Duarte said the research done within the AddConLab will help revolutionize the way the construction industry approaches building residential structures. In turn, this could result in more ecologically smart building options as well, Duarte said.

“The construction industry has a huge impact on the environment,” Duarte said. “Technology like this can actually decrease the ecological impact of the construction industry… and make buildings more affordable, with smaller ecological footprints and design houses for low-income people. There are many advantages.”

Duarte said additional faculty members crucial for the continued development of research within the lab include professors Sven Bilén, Ali Memari, Nick Meisel, Aleksandra Radlińska, Randall Bock and Nathan Brown.

Within the exhibit are several examples of 3D-printed concrete structures the AddConLab created, including large and small cylinders, hollow domes, twisting pillars and walls of varying textures and sizes. Duarte said while creating these structures can be an expensive process, having the financial support of sponsors allows the team to continue its research.

In order to display such a wide array of sizable and intricate structures, exhibit curator Julio Diarte said the curation process involved working as a team to create a cohesive and functional space.

“I'll say it was teamwork, the way we design,” Diarte said. “I was in charge of curating the exhibition, but as you can see, this is the product of a very large team. And it's a very complex project.”

Diarte, an adjunct lecturer of architecture, said the “main criteria” for the exhibit was to give people a chance to move around and see the concrete structures in their entirety and help people fully grasp the complexities surrounding the 3D printing processes.

Despite the efforts of Diarte and the team behind the exhibit, he said there is no way to fully show the extensive work and research that went into creating the structures on display, as well as the labor that went into the NASA 3D printing competition.

“I think we're showing here only a part of what has been done,” Diarte said. “If you go to the research lab, you're going to see the whole infrastructure…It's very messy work, very complex and very heavy too. So I hope at some point, people will be able to visit the research lab to see how they work, how they print all this stuff — It is quite amazing.”

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.