3D printing creates models of extinct life forms

trilobyte

Ancient aquatic creatures have been recreated in metal using 3D printing by University of Chicago assistant professor Dr Allan Drummond

A biochemistry and human genetics researcher, Drummond has a particular interest in trilobites -the extinct arthropods cruised the world’s oceans for some 270 million years – with over 17,000 known species, they are the most diverse group of animals preserved in fossils

“We find their shells fossilized everywhere,” said Drummond. “They’re museum staples – but we rarely see what they really looked like, with all of their soft tissues (legs, antennae, gills) intact.”

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“The first step was to look at as many trilobites as possible and choose one,” he recalls. “I’ve always loved these fossils, but the moment they turned from fossils, into living organisms for me, was when I saw the new generation of preparations displayed at Chicago’s Field Museum. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. In my mind, trilobites were flat, if beautiful, primitive creatures. Seeing those preparations made it clear how not-flat and not-primitive they were.”

The next step was to draw the creature by hand to provide guides for 3D modeling, which was done in Blender. “It was laborious, detail-oriented work over many, many hours,” said Drummond. “With several points where I wondered why I was doing this, and ‘wouldn’t it would be more fun to read a book or watch YouTube?’”

The final model was printed using a form printer, which works by using a laser to cure tiny dots of liquid plastic resin into solid form. Every part in the print had to be v cut from its base, polished, and reassembled – first in plastic, then cast in steel, bronze, and eventually silver.

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