When it comes to higher-level academia, not many have utilized the full potential of 3D printing technology more than those studying archaeology, who have used 3D scanning, modeling, and printing in order to create complete 3D replicas of various fossilized creatures. One intriguing example came from University of Alaska professor Pat Druckenmiller, who, through 3D scanning and printing, discovered an entirely new species of dinosaur! This technology has continued to impact the field of geology, and has now been recognized as the method used by Oxford University researcher Dr. Roger Close, who, with help from 3D printing service providers i.materialise, has also worked to bring the fossils of forgotten species out from the rocks and into our hands.
Unlike Druckenmiller’s massive discovery, Close had been rummaging through Jurassic period rocks on the Isle of Sky in Scotland and found the fossilized remains of some smaller mouse-like species called Palaeoxonodon ooliticus. The fossil itself only measured a few millimeters in size, and would have been a timely and meticulous effort to excavate safely from the rock. This is where 3D printing technology was truly able to help Dr. Close and his Oxford research team. By using an X-Ray Computed Tomography (CT) scanner located at London’s Natural History Museum, the team was able to create a precise 3D model of this species’ Jurassic-era jaw.
“The fact that the model could so easily be scaled up to 20 times its original size made it all the more fun,” said Dr. Close. “I found that being able to scrutinize a 3D print was genuinely helpful while describing the anatomy of the fossil for publication, as it highlights features that might not be immediately apparent on a computer-screen rendering.”
Not only did 3D printing assist Dr. Close with accurate and resizable models of the his team’s fossil discoveries, it also allowed him to easily share his findings with the entire world. Dr. Close has even uploaded the 3D files for these fossils onto the DataDryad.org database so that anyone can download, remodel, and 3D print scientifically important fossils, such as the Palaeoxonodon ooliticus jaw. Using i.materialse, Dr. Close was able to receive high-quality prints of his discovered fossils and excitedly shared them with his colleagues and the online Maker community.
Dr. Close recognizes the educational and cost benefits of 3D modeling and printing within his field, but he appreciates the cool factor that 3D printing carries as well. “The best thing about having a 3D print of the fossil was that I could show the specimen off to colleagues and friends—virtually everyone who saw it was amazed, particularly when they heard that the model had only cost a tenner!” said Dr. Close.