July 1, 2015 | By Kira

A husband and wife team are working on 3D printing macroscopically accurate, anatomical models of a rat, eliminating the need for real animals to be sacrificed in the name of science and education. Their startup, NecropSynth, promises not only to provide a safer and more humane alternative, but one that is drastically cheaper, giving more students than ever before access to high-quality scientific education.

According to the company’s website, dissection has been a part of school curricula since the 1920s, and today, the tradition is still going strong. 84% of pre-college educators in the US today use dissection as a teaching tool, and anywhere from 6 to 12 million animals are killed each year for these purposes.  That’s an astounding number, but what’s even more shocking is the way dissection animals are collected—most often from the wild, irresponsible breeders, or shelters—and the unethical practices of killing them, which range from drowning them in alcohol, to pumping them full of preservatives. In addition to being harmful to the animals themselves, the chemicals used for preservation are both carcinogenic and highly irritating, putting exposed students at risk. Finally, there is the cost not only of the organisms, but of the bio-hazardous collection and discard and protective equipment involved—all of which can add up to $1046 for a single biology class. As Tara Whittle, NecropSynth’s biologist writes, when looked at from this perspective, “the educational disparity begins to make more sense.”

The system has serious drawbacks and is harmful to nearly everyone involved, however an appropriate alternative has yet to be found. While some schools have turned to computer simulations for their science classes, eliminating the smells, chemicals, and ethical questions, these 2D programs lack the hands-on experience and realism of working with an actual model.

That’s where NecropSynth comes in. The idea came to co-founder Bart Taylor when he purchased a PrintrBot 3D printer to tinker around with, but couldn’t think of anything truly useful to make. His wife, Tara Whittle, suggested he try his hand at printing an accurate model of an animal. Taylor, a necropsy technician, and Whittle, a wildlife biologist, are both passionate not only about the ethical treatment of animals, but the value of high-quality scientific education. 3D printing quickly became the vehicle through which they could put the two together. “We can print an animal and structure the layers so that they feel like real tissue, and make a model a person could dissect without ever having to wear gloves, use sharp tools or kill an animal,” said Taylor.

NecropSynth founders Tara Whittle, Bart Taylor, and their daughter

Rats, frogs and fetal pigs are the most commonly used animals in classroom dissections, however the couple is starting with rats, since they were the most familiar with its anatomy. They’re calling their prototype the SynthDawley, in reference to the Sprague Dawley rat, an albino breed used extensively in medical research. With the SynthDawley, they intend to print a macroscopically accurate model of an adult female rat, with simulated vascular structure, ossified structures, and simulated viscera, among other design highlights. Once complete, the project will represent the most complicated, nonprofessionally made 3D design for the purpose of scientific education.

3D printing technology is allowing them to create the most realistic and standardized models possible. The team has recently upgraded to a new graphic powerhouse MSI laptop as well as a PrintrBot Plus Metal with dual extruder upgrade. “Now, a task that would’ve taken hours to accomplish, takes minutes or seconds,” Taylor wrote on their blog. “With each calibration, tweak, and mod we are getting closer to accomplishing our goals.” In addition, the accuracy and standardization of 3D printing means that each synthetic rat will be identical to the one before it, unlike rats bred for high schools, which can be deformed, pregnant, or even diseased.

3D print of the rat's vascular system

Furthermore, 3D printing is dramatically more economical than using real animals. NecropSynth estimates that each of their 3D printed rats would cost as little as $2 to $3 (compared to $8 to $12 for a real rat) and eliminate the need for costly biohazardous equipment. “We think that reducing the cost makes it so that education is far more open. It can help bridge the gap that socioeconomic class puts between schools that may not be able to afford biological specimens and dissection equipment [and those that can],” Taylor says. As if the economic incentive of 3D printing wasn’t already enough, Taylor and Whittle plan to make their designs open-source and free to the public, and are expecting no personal profit in return. It is quite fitting that they are wornecropking with a PrintrBot, since that company also has progressive ideas when it comes to 3D printing and economic equality. They’ve made it their public goal of getting at least one 3D printer in every school across the United States.

NecropSynth's table at the National Maker Faire

NecropSynth recently presented their project at the National Maker Faire in Washington D.C., and is working hard to finalize their designs in order to make them available to the public. Once the SynthDawley is complete, a synthetic frog will be their next big challenge. In the long term, their goal is full production of commonly dissected models, such as frogs, pigs and fish, less commonly dissected models like cats and dogs, and specific situational models for animals with abnormalities or certain diseases.

Taylor and Whittle’s passion for animals, education, and 3D printing is inspiring and shows just how far the technology can take us. “There is money to be made in the 3D-Printing industry, for sure, but there is so much good to be done as well,” said Taylor. “If Printrbot believes they can put a printer in every school in the US, NecropSynth can put anatomical science education in the hands of every student in the US… as a starter.”



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



Maybe you also like:


HSF wrote at 7/1/2015 1:32:37 PM:

A video and a 3D-scan would be better educational material than plastic print. I also think the dissections a meant to teach how to perform experiments, so cannot be totally avoided, though indeed should be regulated, and they are already.

Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive