3D Planets Program


When PARI got its first 3D printer over a decade ago, our educators set out to find a way to combine it with space science.  With some practice, experimentation, and some help from our friends, 3D Planets began a few years later in 2015.  

3D printers are still a big thing and we’re excited to offer our next round of 3D Planets programs and camps.

What a kid learns in 3D Planets

Planetary Geography

What is the surface of another planet like and how do we find out?  Is the surface of Mars like the surface of the Moon?  What about other planets and moons in our solar system?

We explore the geography of other locations in our solar system to discover craters and volcanoes, rifts and valleys, ancient rivers and glaciers, and more.  We’ll learn about the spacecraft that have visited them and how they collected the data we use to study them.

Systems like latitude and longitude apply to more than Earth, and other planets have north and south poles.  Planets vary greatly across different regions of their surface just like Earth too.

Three Dimensional Spatial Thinking

How do we work with multiple dimensions when all we have is a flat surface?  Can we learn to move things about in our head and change their size and shape as we learn about an object?  How are round planets represented on different types of maps?

3D Modeling and Printing

Data about the surface of other planets can be represented in a computer, but at first all it looks like is a bunch of numbers.  We’ll guide participants through the process of transforming data into a model in the computer that is an accurate representation of a place far beyond Earth.
The software we use will be the same used by professionals in the fields of 3D design and animation and the skills learned will allow all sorts of creations to be brought to life.
Not everything that can be imagined and created on a computer screen can be printed into a real object.  Each type of 3D printer has its own set of capabilities and limitations.  Understanding these and choosing how to turn a model from an image to a real object can be a big challenge.

Communicating Science to All

Not everyone takes in information the same way.  Not only do different people learn in different ways, but the senses someone has available to take in information about the world can vary among us.
As the example we explore, people with sight loss or impairment cannot take in information about the surface of another planet simply by looking at a picture or a map.  Instead, a 3D printed tactile model can allow someone to form a picture in their mine using their sense of touch.  
How to people use their fingers to help them learn about the world do this?  How should an object feel to be used this way?  Does everyone read words in Braille or are there other methods?  Participants will have to think about these questions when designing their model so what they create can serve as a tool that is accessible to more than just sighted people.  

How your organization can host a 3D Planets Session

Number of Participants

Twenty kids participate in a 3D planets workshop.  If you believe that to best serve your community a larger group should participate, we can discuss whether this is possible and if any additional funding would need to be found.


Currently, 3D Planets funding is available only to host organizations within the state of North Carolina.  However, if an organization can provide funding for the workshop, PARI is happy to travel to other locations.

Required Space

A 3D Planets workshop requires a space with tables for laptop computers.  Kids work in pairs so tables that will accommodate at least two kids, a laptop, and some working space are needed.  PARI will provide the laptops.

Several tables to hold teaching supplies and 3D printers and accessories are also needed.  Power will need to be accessible to all tables.  PARI will provide the 3D printers and supplies.

A place to project presentations and lessons is needed.  If your facility does not have a projector and screen or a large tv, PARI can bring these.

An open space for activities and modeling a planetary surface is needed.  This space should be large enough for 20 kids to move around in without obstruction and should be a place where temporarily attaching painters tape to the floor and walls is allowed.  

Required Time

A 3D Planets workshop takes 21 hours of instruction time.  It is strongly preferred that this be divided into three or four days of instruction and that these days happen consecutively.  However, we understand that you know the needs of your community and alternate schedules can be discussed.

Typically a workshop takes place either during a school break, or with the cooperation of a local school that allows some amount of class time to be missed in order to participate.  A schedule may be something like: 

  • Thursday after school – introduction and beginning lessons
  • Friday all day (with permission to miss school) – lessons, modeling, small prints
  • Saturday all day – lessons, final models, printing
  • Sunday part day – wrap up and reflection


3D Planets is designed for middle school aged kids.  Twenty kids should participate and must be able to commit to the entire workshop.  The content is sequential and builds as it progresses and a participant who misses some of the content will be unable to complete the workshop.

Participants do not need to be top performing students or already have an established interest or strength in STEM areas.  It is preferred instead that participants be those who would be most likely to benefit from a boost in these areas that a challenging and inspiring experience would provide.


There is no cost to a host organization to host a 3D Planets workshop provided that it is conducted in the manner laid out here.  If changes need to be made to the structure, content, or type or number of participants, some costs may need to be covered by the host organization.  This will be completely discussed before the planning of a workshop.
PARI is able to provide financial support to a host organization to cover the use of their facility to conduct the workshop.  The amount is to be agreed upon during the planning of the workshop.
There is no cost to a participant in the workshop.  Kids who attend do so for free but must commit to attending the entire workshop.  If they do so, a stipend will be paid to their family to help defer the costs of transportation.  A host organization may not charge any fees to a participant to attend.

Recruitment and Coordination with Schools

The recruitment of participants who meet the guidelines for a 3D Planets workshop, and the coordination with the schools they attend, if needed, is solely the responsibility of the host organization.  PARI provides financial support to the host organization to help cover the costs of conducting this work.  

Information to Share

You can find a version of this page to share with participants and their families here: https://www.pari.edu/camps/3d-planets-workshop/ 

Funding for a limited number of 3D Planets workshops is available each year.

3D Planets is made possible by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and the supporters of PARI.