Sep 24, 2015 | By Kira

An artist's depiction of what paleontologists believe Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis looked like. Image credit: James Havens.

One of the most impressive things about 3D printing technology is not how it is driving us into the future of manufacturing and design, but how it can still help us discover important facts about the past. With the help of Geomagic 3D scanners and software, a Professor of Geology in Alaska was able to reconstruct a skeletal model of a newly discovered dinosaur for the first time.

The duck-billed dinosaur is known as the Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis (pronounced oo-GREW-na-luck KOOK-pik-en-sis) and was discovered by Dr. Pat Drukenmiller, Museum Curator of Earth Science and Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Drukenmiller spends several months a year in Alaska’s Liscomb Bonebed, a 3-foot layer of dinosaur fossils and the single richest bed for dinosaur bones in either polar region. While the area is obviously a boon to archeologists and historians, the vast amount of bones have spent centuries being mixed up and blown around, making it nearly impossible to sort them by specimen and size, and even harder to find exact matches between left and right bones, or skulls and legs.

Determined as he was to recreate the Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis without spending the next ten years of his life digging around the bonebed, Drukenmiller turned to Michael Holland of Bozeman MT, which specializes in creating and building natural history exhibit features, and Ian Sayers of the 3D service bureau Peak Solutions. Holland is no stranger to using 3D scanning and 3D printing to recreate historical artifacts for museum displays, and immediately recognized how he could assist Drukenmiller.

Bone scan in progress

The team created plaster casts of the partial bones they had already uncovered, and then scanned them with a Geomagic Capture 3D scanner, known for being able to capture even the finest details. Within 10 minutes for each both, they had fully working 3D models. Next up, they used Geomagic Wrap to create accurate 3D data and quickly mirror the missing bones.

“We could have estimated or been creative about what the skull looked like, but we would have had serious asymmetry and distortion if we did,” said Holland. “The scientific approach was to take complete fossils in a 3D scan and be able to mirror and accurately replicate them. We could only do that with 3D scanning and 3D printing.”

3D printed mirror-copies of the original bones

Since they needed rigid, bone-like parts, they used a 3D Systems ProJet 660 3D printer. The hardened gypsum prints are ideal surfaces to paint on, and worked well with the glue, pins and nails needed to hold the skeleton together and bring it to life.

One of the greatest advantages of using 3D printing technology was the speed with which the entire process could be completed. Not only did being able to mirror and print the missing bones save Drukenmiller weeks, if not months of excavating, but the actual process of scanning, modeling and printing was done accurately within days.

“This is a very cool and real example of how 3D digital scanning and printing is revolutionizing what we do in our profession—not just for display but for research overall,” said Drukenmiler. “As a result, we are able to reconstruct a new specices of dinosaur for the exhibit—faster than we ever could before.”

Holland added that he was also under pressure to create three full skeletons for an exhibition, and that 3D scanning and printing created huge time savings: “I had 3D data virtually overnight and 3D prints within a day or two.”

Professor Drukenmiller goal as a geologist is to advance our knowledge of the prehistoric creatures that came before us, and to deepen our understanding of the world at large. With the help of 3D printing, not only was he able to accurately reconstruct this dinosaur for research and study purposes, he was able to create a life-like exhibit that will be seen by thousands, encouraging more people to learn about the cause. You can read more about his research in the publication Acta Paleontologica Polonica.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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