Scientists have 3D printed a dinosaur fossil which was hidden in a plaster cast jacket by using a CT scanner to generate the 3D model data. Delicate fossils are often stored in plaster casts to protect them but this makes examining the fossil impossible, until now.
Before this technique was developed researchers would damage or even destroy a fragile fossil when breaking open it’s protective plaster casing which would reduce the amount of useful information they would be able to get from the fossil.
Researchers in Berlin decided to test whether using a CT scanner and a 3D printer to create a 3D model of the bone in a non-destructive process.
“The most important benefit of this method is that it is non-destructive, and the risk of harming the fossil is minimal,” said Dr Ahi Sema Issever, from the Charité Campus Mitte in Berlin.
The encased fossil is CT scanned with a 430 slice multi-detector system and due to the different absorption of radiation of the bone compared to the plaster material provides a clear image of the fossil. A selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printer is then used to create a model of the fossilized bone.
Dr Issever tested the new process on a unidentified fossil that was stored in a basement of the Museum für Naturkunde in Belin. This fossil, and many others, were buried in the basement by rubble after a WWII bombing raid which made it’s identification difficult. After studying the CT scan the researchers were able to determine the fossil’s origin to a major dig from 1910 to 1927 in a clay pit in the south of Halberstadt, Germany.
Dr Issever expects 3D printing technology to help scientists and educators to better collaborate and understand dinosaur fossils when undertaking their research.
“The digital dataset and, ultimately, reproductions of the 3D print may easily be shared, and other research facilities could thus gain valuable informational access to rare fossils, which otherwise would have been restricted,” Dr Issever said.