Using new things to make old things

At the lab we got a new ‘smart’ extrude on our makerbot. In case your keeping score, this is the 5th one. They may be a bit finicky from time to time but when they work, oh boy, do they ever print some great stuff!

3D printing has opened up a new world of hands on learning. Over time large plaster casts of fossils and elaborate, expensive models can be slowly filtered away. Anthropologists are starting to create imaging files of their finds. Some of the iconic discoveries can be scanned and printed at home, at school or here in the lab!

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Things such as the famed missing link, Afropithecus can be scanned and printed out in plastic for the curious passer-by and researching scientists alike. So naturally, we made one. The printer provides greater detail by printing in finer and finer layers. This allows the contours and cracks in the skull to be replicated perfectly.

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We don’t just work with things of the past though, trying to keep informed and educated about the living things around us. By studying their bones we can learn about their ancestry in the same manner we study those ancient fossils. Right now we’ve got all sorts of things churning out of the printer, human vertebrate for example. But not everything has to be a hominid. Creating other mammalian replicas provides a great way to study other species.
Check out this spotted hyena skull!

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As we type right now there something that is soon to be a giraffe skull printing out as well. Really looking forward too see how it develops.

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When using 3D printing as a tool to create replicas of bones some issues occur when utilizing them as tools for studying. First is one that is almost instantly apparent. The scale of the object. The hyena skull printed is about 1/8th the size of the actual skull. Probably even smaller. To the layman this is no problem, but when looking in depth for studying and as a teaching tool this becomes clearer. Smaller details are less visible and the supports that are generated during the printing process become more distorting. Which leads to the second issue of using a 3D model instead of the bone like reconstruction. The resolution. Despite when printing at the finest layers that our Makerbot can go, 0.1mm, it can still leave some detail out of the final product. Not only does it create faint lines when there should be a smooth texture but the details separating teeth and smaller cracks in the bones become less apparent, and more difficult to gauge. For example where the tooth meets the mandible lacks the appearances and smooth difference that is available with other types of modeling.

Come down to the lab at New Westminster River Market anytime to check these out!

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for our next open lab session, where we bring some of the cooler prints and the makerbot for everyone to check out.