Mar.27, 2012

Fossils (from Latin fossus, literally "having been dug up") are the preserved remains of once-living animals, plants, and other organisms from the remote past. The study of fossils provides us record of their life, how they were formed, and the evolutionary relationships between each other.

Fossils are exceptionally rare and often very fragile and therefore are not widely accessible to the public. With this in mind, palaeontologist Dr Imran Rahman based in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences in the University of Birmingham, UK, started a project to develop a resource that will allow anyone, not just scientists, to view and interact with fossils. This project is funded by NERC.

Together with Dr Myfanwy Johns (Leverhulme Artist in Residence) and John Clatworthy (Curator of the Lapworth Museum), they created 3D computer reconstructions of fossils using CT scanning. They coloured in different body parts, on every slice, and created virtual fossils - anyone with a computer can then view and interact with them. These fossils can tell us how those specimens lived their lives over 300 million years ago, how they are related to each other, and hence about evolution, and the history of life.

Watch a nice video below explains the process:

The exciting part of his work is that he has managed to 3D print a few fossils. Working with Jewellery and Industry Innovation Centre (JIIC), Birmingham City University, Dr Imran Rahman selected a 165-million-year-old fossil ammonite from the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic eras as a sample. The fossil was CT scanned at the Natural History Museum, London and then reconstructed as a virtual fossil on a 'normal' desktop PC using free SPIERS software.

(3D Printed Fossil Ammonite)

The fossil was printed on an Objet Eden350 - which uses photopolymer jetting technology to print in horizontal layers around one hundredth of a millimetre thick, and hence models are highly detailed, accurate and clean. The material used for printing was a rigid opaque plastic known as VeroWhitePlus, which is tough and durable. After printing, support material was carefully removed from the object, and it was hand painted white to give a nice, uniform finish. The 3D print retains fine details of the original fossil, including the intricate growth lines. - Dr Imran Rahman.

3D scanning and 3D modeling software not only allows scientists make casts of many rare specimens, but also allows them to scale these models up or down so that detailed features on a tiny specimen can be rendered. Each element of the fossils can be digitally isolated and rendered as original size or enlarged 3D physical models. The virtual fossils, including internal features such as the cranial cavity and inner ear canals and labyrinths, can all be 3D-printed for further study and research.

(Artistic Transformation of a Fossil Ammonite)

Dr Johns, Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the University of Birmingham said: "The ammonite's internal structure is delicate and lace-like, perfectly preserved in an undisturbed state. CT scanning uncovers these hidden structures and opens up a previously unobtainable world. The scanning process divides the ammonite into thin slices which reveal the interior structure as a ground plan, and this is where I intervened and manipulated the plan into a digital sculptural form."

When 3D printing technology is used for casting rare specimens, it reduces the possibility of damage. The STL data files can be easily distributed to the general public to attract more public interests and engagement in palaeontology.

Watch this video about 3D printing a dinosaur skull to see how 3D printing can create an accurate model of a fossil:

(3D Printed Fossil Crabs)

This innovative new 'virtual palaeontology' resource will be on display at the Lapworth Museum during the University of Birmingham Community Day on 10th June.


Photo credit/Via Virtual Palaeontology

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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