Tag Archives: paleontology

3D Printing Crosses Academic Boundaries at Universities

3D Printing at Universities

3D printing has historically been seen as a tool for engineers and designers to rapidly prototype. Now the technology is crossing academic boundaries at universities and being adopted by various disciplines.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on this trend.

Colleges and universities are finding more and more uses for 3-D-printing technology, which has grown in sophistication and fallen in price in recent years. Some proponents argue that nearly every discipline could benefit from the ability to easily create objects from customized designs. “We want this for humanities, for social sciences, for bio people, for law school, so what’s interesting about 3-D printing is that it touches on all these areas,” says Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering and of computing and information science at Cornell University, who is creating a 3-D-printing course for nonengineers.

What are some examples of students using 3D printing across disciplines? 

Art: “When an art student at the University of Washington wanted to bring her vision of a futuristic animal to life last semester, she didn’t draw, paint, or sculpt it. She printed it—in three dimensions—using a machine that rendered her design from powdered bone.”

Medical: “Consider the work of Brandon Bowman, 28, a former blacksmith who is now studying at Washington. He is working with a hand surgeon to see if the technology can print body parts. Years ago Mr. Bowman lost the tip of a finger in a metal-shop accident. A friend told him to leave the wound alone and let the nub of flesh grow back on its own. It did, and he has been interested in regenerative medicine ever since.”

Paleontology: ’Kenneth Lacovara, a biologist at Drexel University uses the campus lab to print copies of dinosaur fossils, which he lets his students handle. “I can only have so many undergraduates in my lab, but I can give thousands of students the experience of what it’s like to hold a dinosaur bone and see the richness of detail contained in an ancient fossil,” says the associate professor. His students can’t go on the actual digs, but the printer has helped him replicate the experience.’

How far can 3D printing go?

University of Washington mechanical engineering professor Mark Ganter thinks that 3D printing will continue to proliferate.

“With 3-D printers, they’re either going to get to the ubiquity of Kinko’s, or lots of people are going to have them in their house,” he says.

Mr. Ganter sees 3D printing as a way to hook younger students on engineering fields. This year his class printed 8,000 edible cookies for an engineering open house for visiting junior-high and high-school students. They were more excited by the printed cookies than by anything else, he says.

The Washington professor’s students have also used the technology to print a device for NASA that, when sent into outer space, would store fuel in zero gravity. If institutions can develop early interest in engineering, and maintain sufficient access for kids to nurture this interest, he says, “soon we are going to try to figure out how to print on the moon.”


Read the full article at Chronicle of Higher Education.

Students 3D Printing photo by cogdogblog used under Creative Commons license.

Bringing Woolly Mammoths and Dinosaurs Back to Life With 3D Printing

Marguerite Humeau Gives Voice to Woolly Mammoths

Marguerite Humeau is using 3D printing to give a voice to creatures from long ago, specifically from the prehistoric era.

Thanks to the heaps of dinosaur bones scattered across the globe, paleontologists have a vague idea of what dinosaurs looked like when they roamed the earth millions of years ago. But what they sounded like is a tougher nut to crack. Vocal chords are made of soft tissue and cartilage, which means they don’t fossilize. The roars and squawks we hear in movies aren’t exactly made up, but they certainly aren’t based on scientific fact. Marguerite Humeau has spent the last two years working with paleontologists, zoologists, engineers, and doctors to recreate the noises our scaly forebears might have made.

Humeau has chosen to reimagine creatures from three vastly different prehistoric eras: There’s Ambulocetus, or the “walking whale,” a Cetacean that could swim and walk over 50 million years before our time. Entelodont (also known as *shiver* Hell Pig) was a massive omnivore that roamed more than 20 million years ago. The youngest is Mammoth Imperator, the species of giant mammoth that Humeau recreated for her graduation show in 2011.

Using a combination of her artistic intuition and scientific data, Humeau is creating the voice boxes of these creatures, and subsequently building a new library of animal sounds never before heard in the modern era.

The video below, entitled “Proposal for resuscitating prehistoric creatures,” sets up the rebirth of cloned creatures, their wandering and their sound epic.

Via Co.Design.

How Leading Scientists Across Fields are Embracing 3D Printing

Nature 3D Printing Science

Nature, the international weekly journal of science, published a feature on how 3D printing is opening up new worlds to research. In a detailed article, Nature covers uses of 3D printing by leading scientists ranging from investigating complex molecules, designing custom lab tools, printing and sharing rare artifacts, and manufacturing cardiac tissue that beats like a heart.

We recommend you read the full feature. Below are some of the highlights:


At palaeontology and anthropology conferences, more and more people are carrying printouts of their favourite fossils or bones. “Anyone who thinks of themselves as an anthropologist needs the right computer graphics and a 3D printer. Otherwise it’s like being a geneticist without a sequencer,” says Zollikofer.

Read more coverage on paleontology.

Molecular biology

These days, 3D printing is being used to mock up far more complex systems, says Arthur Olson, who founded the molecular graphics lab at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, 30 years ago. These include molecular environments made up of thousands of interacting proteins, which would be onerous-to-impossible to make any other way. With 3D printers, Olson says, “anybody can make a custom model”. But not everybody does: many researchers lack easy access to a printer, aren’t aware of the option or can’t afford the printouts (which can cost $100 or more).

Organ reproduction

For example, Organovo, a company based in San Diego, California, has developed a printer to build 3D tissue structures that could be used to test pharmaceuticals. The most advanced model it has created so far is for fibrosis: an excess of hard fibrous tissue and scarring that arises from interactions between an organ’s internal cells and its outer layer. The company’s next step will be to test drugs on this system. “It might be the case that 3D printing isn’t the only way to do this, but it’s a good way,” says Keith Murphy, a chemical engineer and chief executive of Organovo.

Read more coverage on organ printing.

 Custom lab tools

In the meantime, basic plastic 3D printers are starting to allow researchers to knock out customized tools. Leroy Cronin, a chemist at the University of Glasgow, UK, grabbed headlines this year with his invention of ‘reactionware’ — printed plastic vessels for small-scale chemistry (M. D. Symes et al. Nature Chem. 4,349–354; 2012). Cronin replaced the ‘inks’ in a $2,000 commercially available printer with silicone-based shower sealant, a catalyst and reactants, so that entire reaction set-ups could be printed out. The point, he says, is to make customizable chemistry widely accessible. His paper showed how reactionware might be harnessed to produce new chemicals or to make tiny amounts of specific pharmaceuticals on demand. For now, other chemists see the idea as a clever gimmick, and are waiting to see what applications will follow.

Read more coverage on custom lab equipment.

Via Nature.

3D Scanning and Printing Dinosaurs, Open-Sourcing Scientific Data

3D Printing Dinosaurs

In the past, scaling and reproducing fossils was cost prohibitive and was in the domain of artists. Now 3D printers and 3D scanners are affordable, which means that paleontologists can now recreate dinosaurs.

3D Scan and Print Dinosaurs

In the video below, Professor Kenneth Lacovara says ”the best thing you could do in science is to falsify your hypothesis.” 3D digital technology allows scientists to “open-source” their empirical data, including original discoveries like fossils. Now, instead of asking colleagues to fly across the globe to help validate new findings, a scientist can just send a digital file and the finding can be 3D printed at the other end.

3D Scanning Fossils

Scanning fossils has further application with the use of the 3D printer, of course. Holding the 1/10 scale leg bone of a dinosaur in the palm of his hand, Lacovara explained that uses in the classroom present attractive prospects, where examination of real specimens is hardly practical. The scans can also fill in the blanks of broken or incomplete bones by replicating data from a similar part. Of course, printing all of the specimens is still fairly expensive, so for now, they’re only printing fossils from which they hope to learn some new piece of information. The process is simple: Dr. Lacovara, and his students set a bone on a table, or, if size is less of a factor, on a small rotating pedestal. The scanner used in his lab is a $3,000 NextEngine scanner, which uses simple proprietary software to scan around 1 million points on a three-dimensional object in a few minutes. It is plugged into a Windows computer. The scanning produces an STL file, commonly used in CAD. The STL file is sent to another computer, and this time, it’s the one that is attached to the Dimension Elite 3D Printer which is housed in the Engineering Department, where the actual “printing” of the bone takes place. The complete process can take just a few hours. The printer uses fused deposit modeling, a 3D imaging and printing process developed in the 1980s and commercialized in the 1990s. It takes the STL file and essentially slices it into layers, automatically generating a disposable, breakaway support structure if needed. The printing material, a polymer plastic, is laid down in those corresponding layers, eventually completing the finished object. The result is a highly faithful and exact scale model of the object as originally scanned at a given scale. While the process is still somewhat expensive, it leads to the possibility — previously unthinkable — of endless duplication, and endless faithful reproductions.

Read the full article at The Verge.