May 10, 2016 | By Tess

For students studying the anatomy of animals, having a model to analyze and even touch offers many advantages over simply looking at photos, especially when comparing certain species. That is seeing a skeleton as it is, in 3D, rather than on paper lets students understand the scale, structure and details of a certain animal’s bones. Of course, while traditional methods like dissection still do exist, they are not always accessible to all universities and come along with a number of ethical questions. To help students learn anatomy and to make the field of study more accessible to both students and teachers, a team of scientists from New Zealand’s Massey University have developed a method to easily 3D scan and print replicas of small animal skeletons.

The research, which was led by Dr. Daniel Thomas of Massey’s Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, consisted of capturing 3D scans of a cane toad skeleton as well as the tough cartilage from the head of a spiny dogfish (of the Squalidae family of sharks). The 3D scans were made using inexpensive consumer scanners, which the scientists hope will inspire other universities to follow suit. “The scanning system we used is reasonably inexpensive for a school or university to buy,” says Dr. Thomas.

Once scanned, the 3D anatomical models were additively manufactured using a selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printer. Of course, even without a 3D printer on hand, the scans can still be printed using a 3D printing service, for instance. As Dr. Thomas continues to say, “Online services for 3D printing are great if an educator or learner doesn’t have their own printer. There is no maximum size limit for printing or scanning, as bones that are larger than the printing chamber can be printed in multiple pieces.”

Dr. Daniel Thomas explains the significance of the project saying, “Anatomy teaches us about the ecology and evolution of an animal and can give us crucial information for developing conservation strategies. It’s not always possible for learners to study original anatomy specimens though, which is where high-quality 3D printed models come in. Imagine a classroom in Silverdale being able to print a moa skeleton or a university class in America being able to examine a kakapo beak that was scanned here in New Zealand.”

While the 3D printed models are perhaps not as thorough as a biological dissection, the scientists behind the project are hoping that their 3D printed cane toad skeletons and spiny fish cartilage will provide a model for other universities to follow, especially those with little access to original specimens. For now, the team from Massey University have made their scans of the cane toad and the spiny fish available for download, so that they can be printed for the classroom.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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