Paleontology is the study of ancient life and for many years, ever since it became an established science in the 18th century, it was hardly associated in the public’s minds with high-tech activities. Carbon dating kicked it up a notch but the real twist is coming with the onset of 3D printing technologies.

Steve Clawson, a young teaching assistant at Beloit College in Wisconsin and Museum Specialist & Technician with the local Field Museum, is part of a new generation of paleontologist who have embraced 3D printing to produce fossil specimens. To help other colleagues get up to (carbon)date, he made a video tutorial showing how to prepare a fossil for 3D printing.

The chief issue I take with traditional injection-moulded casts is that they cannot resolve the internal details of a fossil specimen – only the surfaces that contact the silicon rubber used in the production of the moulds can be replicated”, he explains in his new YouTube channel page. “Refined 3D printing with FDM may soon have the potential to replace the current standards for the production of these casts in paleontological laboratories”.

3D Printing 3D Model T-Rex Skull

In fact Clawson can already be considered an expert in fossil 3D printing (that is the beauty of 3D printing: its applications are so new and develop so fast that anyone, at any age, can gain expertise in a relatively short time). Many colleagues asked him to share the basic software processes that go into 3D printing a fossil from a 3D model downloaded from the Web.

The video shows how to view and prepare the 3D file using Meshlab, a free, open source software for the processing and editing of unconstructed 3D triangular meshes, developed by the Visual Computing Lab of ISTI-CNR, the Italian National Research Center. Any errors and missing parts in the 3D model are then repaired using NetFabb, and sent to an Up! Mini 3D Printer.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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