By Matthew Milstead
Every museum has a shop to entice users to purchase miniature items seen in the exhibits, but with 3D-printing technology, your experience might change for the better. Imagine if you were a child studying dinosaurs in your elementary school class and you had the ability to actually touch a replica of a dinosaur fossil. This is exactly what students who are studying fossils in Melbourne, Australia, are soon going to be able to do. Printing 3D models of actual fossils can open the door for students to get an up-close and personal view of the fossils of the ancient beasts that roamed the earth.
3D-printed dinosaur skull
Seeing Is Believing
When exclusive access to artifacts is limited, it makes it difficult for students who want to learn more about fossils to get a deeper understanding of how a complex bone structure works. 3D printing like Paramate can revolutionize fields that require access to intricate and priceless objects. The process for creating a scan is harmless. With CT and laser scanning, it’s possible to get an exact replica of an item without even touching the artifact.
Scientists can also get a better view of an object without having to resort to a magnifying class. Since the object can easily be scaled larger or smaller, it’s possible to get a replica of an object in the exact form factor needed for analysis. Imagine the ability to scale the skeletal structure of a Brontosaurus to an accurate model that can fit on a desk. This makes it easier to discover any flaws in the construction of the bone structure, and it can make it easier to get a wide view of the fossilized creature. It’s also possible to enlarge smaller specimens to make them easier to review.
Tactile Sensations Improve Analysis
This reduces the risk of damage to priceless fossils, and it allows a more robust hands-on analysis of fossils that were previously too delicate to hold. The ability to interact with fossils has been limited in the past for fear of breaking the fossils. Using a model removes that risk since it’s always possible to print another.
Printing Your Favorite Fossils at Home
In addition to the boom that printing fossils can provide to museums, with on-demand printing options it’s possible for museums to increase revenues and generate additional interest with realistic models. A discussion of Australopithecus is no longer limited to two-dimensional slides and images. It’s now possible to print your very own Lucy for use in your classroom or keep in your home.
In 2008, The University of Texas placed Lucy under a CT scanner. The team was able to create a theory about how Lucy died thanks to the models that came about as a result of these scans. The model could be enlarged or shrunk to make it easier to analyze the bones for any evidence of trauma. The result is that the team ended up concluding Lucy died after falling from a 30-foot tree. While some scientists do argue with the results, the ability to have your very own Lucy in your home represents a phenomenal advance in 3D-printing technology.
Choose From a Library of Fossils
The British Geological Service is busy creating a large database that includes thousands of fossils that are held in various collections. Many of the records include 3D models as well. Currently, it’s possible to manipulate these models from within a display case. With the rapid development of 3D printing, however, it may soon be possible to order your favorite fossils for home delivery.
As the technology continues to develop and becomes more affordable, the ability to bring the science class to the homeschool or public school environment will become a reality. As students learn with hands-on models that are created in strikingly authentic detail, the field of 3D printing will improve learning and potentially spur an entire generation of scientists. The implications go beyond fossils, and this technology could be used to help students study anatomy, biology and even get an up-close and personal view of a microbe. It’s hard to believe that printers would end up playing such a huge role in the development of science, but the future is here and it brings the past along with it in excruciatingly accurate detail.
Matthew Milstead is a blogger and writer from Australia interested in and covering topics relating to printing technology, 3D modeling, 3D printing and education. You can contact him on Twitter.