Jan 15, 2018 | By Tess

A researcher from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, has turned to 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies to digitally recreate and study the skull of the country’s most famous dinosaur: Massospondylus.

(Image: Wits University)

The research on the the 200-million-year-old dinosaur is being led by PhD researcher Kimi Chapelle, who specializes in evolutionary studies. Through a collaboration with her university’s MicroFocus CT facility, she has captured a highly detailed 3D scan of the Massospondylus’ skull which has enabled her to learn new things about the long extinct species.

Fortunately for all of us, Chapelle has also made the 3D scans public in an effort to encourage research on the dinosaur all over the world. The accessible 3D scan also means that dinosaur enthusiasts are welcome to 3D print their own copies of the Massospondylus skull for research or just for fun.

Within Chapelle’s own research, the 3D scan of the dinosaur’s skull has enabled her to study the structure of the cranium and to learn never-before-known things about the Massospondylus’ hearing and inner ear organs, teeth, and more.

(Image: Nobu Tamura / Wikipedia)

The dinosaur itself, which existed roughly 200 million years ago, was first discovered in South Africa in 1854 by paleontologist Sir Richard Owen. Since then, Massospondylus fossils have been uncovered throughout South Africa, making the species one of the region’s most famous well known.

According to Chapelle, however, the particular skull she 3D scanned was never subjected to an in-depth study. In other words, her research marks a breakthrough for what we know about the Massospondylus.

“I was amazed when I started digitally reconstructing Massospondylus' skull, and found all these features that had never been described,” the researcher said. “It just goes to show that researchers still have a lot to learn about South Africa's dinosaurs.”

(Image: Wits University)

The discoveries Chapelle made about the Massospondylus skull include insight into how the nerves in the cranium could have been networked and how the dino’s inner and middle ear were connected to each other. She also notes that the dinosaur had replacement teeth, similar to a crocodile and that the skull in question was not fully fused together, meaning that the dinosaur was not fully grown.

“By comparing the inner ear to that of other dinosaurs, we can try and interpret things like how they held their heads and how they moved,” Chapelle explained. “You can actually see tiny replacement teeth in the bones of the jaws, showing us that Massospondylus continuously replaced its teeth, like crocodiles do, but unlike humans that can only do it once.”

“Also, the fact that the bones of the braincase aren't fully fused means that this particular fossil is that of an individual that is not fully grown yet. This allows us to understand how Massospondylus grew, how fast it grew and how big it could grow,” the researcher added.

(Image: Wits University)

Chapelle’s current research has been published in a recent issue of the journal PeerJ, which is openly accessible. In continuing her research, Chapelle adds that she will continue to use CT and 3D scanning to learn more about other Massospondylus fossils that have been found in the region. “I'll be using scans of other specimens to answer new questions,” she said “For example, how did Massospondylus babies weighing less than 100g grow up to be half-tonne adults?”

Within paleontology and related fields, 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies are taking on an increasing significance. 3D scanning has proved especially fruitful for dinosaur research, as it provides a non-invasive method for digitally capturing detailed and accurate models of ancient fossils, allowing for specialists to study fossils without the risk of damage to the originals.

Elsewhere, 3D scanning and printing have been used to study how the massive Tyrannosaurus Rex evolved, aided in the discovery of the world’s largest known dinosaur, and were used to recreate a life-size 3D printed model of the Titanosaur for New York’s American Museum of Natural History.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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