With last year’s success of Jurassic World in the box office, there has been renewed interest in dinosaurs and the field of Paleontology. It has inspired families to visit their local natural museums or science centers featuring dinosaur exhibits to learn and stand in awe of the massive displays of the Tyrannosaurus Rex and other impressive prehistoric monsters.
One might not know, however, the extensive two and a half year process behind building these displays for visitors to see, or the role that 3D imaging and 3D printing play in the process.
It all starts with several weeks of digging in rural or even remote locations in Montana, Kansas, South Dakota, and other hotbeds for digging prehistoric animals. Paleontologists have to dig up the fossils in a meticulous manner in order to preserve the brittle bones as best as possible.
Once excavated, the large amount of fossils have to be pieced together in order to assess for completeness. Some prehistoric animals can be exceptionally complex with hundreds of pieces. Once all of the pieces are laid out, scientists can begin to understand what parts have gone missing after all of these millions of years. It is almost guaranteed that a majority of the components are missing. In fact, it is usually the case that half of the skeleton has deteriorated, and the other half was preserved and found. This is extremely common because when the animal would die, the animal would naturally lay on their side. The side facing up is usually better preserved while the side facing down has generally deteriorated.
Paleontologists and museum curators have incorporated 3D technology which allows them to complete these prehistoric specimens and build museum displays. Scientists are using 3D scanning technology to digitize the bones and create 3D models. They can then mirror the 3D image of the fossil creating a replica of the missing half of the specimen.
In some cases, the 66-million-year-old fossils become so brittle that removing the fossil from the ground is not a viable solution. In one case, when studying the fossils of a Thescelosaurus and an Alligator Gar, a team of paleontologists used a CT scan to take high-resolution images of the fossil because it was no longer possible to remove the skull without damaging it. While this method is uncommon, this allows scientists to preserve images of these rare specimens and share their images around the globe.
Once 3D models are created, the use of a large 3D printer is used to print exact replicas of the fossils. In particular, museums are turning to large format 3D printers such as The Atlas manufactured by Titan Robotics. Anthony Maltese, curator at the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, CO is a huge proponent of using 3D technology and is currently utilizing large 3D printer, The Atlas, to help build his displays. “We used to have to mirror objects by hand, but now we utilize our 3D printer with a 30x30x45 inch build space and get it done in half the time,” Anthony told us. “Now we can print things like an entire T-Rex jaw overnight, and be ready to build our display the next morning.”
Once the bones are 3D printed, they are hand finished through sanding and other treatments. They are either ready for display, or they can be used to make a silicone mold for casting. The molds can be used for the displays themselves, future projects, or to cast more replicas to be sent to other museums across the world. Because of the recent adoption of 3D technology, museums and science centers are able to bring to life the ancient Jurassic world for young and old to enjoy.
About Titan Robotics
Titan Robotics is focused on building large 3D printers that will last a lifetime. This startup company based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado is dedicated to only using the highest quality components and precision machined steel to manufacture their 3D printers. The company was founded by Clay Guillory a mechanical engineer who started the company based on quality and good customer service.
About Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center
Located in the beautiful town of Woodland Park, CO, the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center features an awe-inspiring display of dinosaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles, pterosaurs and fish of North America’s late Cretaceous period. The fossil skeletons on display are supplemented with vibrant graphics and life-restoration sculptures to help you visualize these fascinating animals in life and the environments in which they lived.