3D printing is steadily becoming more available to amateur users, with units becoming available in schools and public libraries across the country. At the same time, industrial CT scanners are becoming more accessible and cost effective for researchers. With a good CT scan, a paleontologist can observe detailed anatomy, such a bone matrix, or otherwise hidden anatomy, such as developing teeth. Taken together, these two technologies make a powerful team.
Our lab got a Makerbot Replicator 2 in 2013. Its inaugural project was to print a Hadrocodium skull for the documentary, “Your Inner Fish”. Following that, the Replicator was frequently used to print models generated from CT scans. These included models that were magnified replicas of the fossil, anatomical components digitally dissected out from the scan, or reconstructions of bones that were broken or warped in the specimen. These models were useful for observing details on small and delicate bones, demonstrating anatomy to students, and testing possible articulation.
In 2014 our department got an industrial CT scanner, perfect for scanning small to medium sized fossils and bones. Surprisingly, there are very few resources available addressing the problem of mounting specimens. The scanner itself is equipped with a lathe chuck, which is not very good for attaching samples directly to. Instead, a range of attachments are needed to accommodate different sized specimens. This is where a 3D printer comes in very handy. Falcon tubes are useful for small samples. More complex clamps could be made in a machine shop. With a 3D printer, custom built platforms/containers/cradles can be produced quickly and cheaply. What follows are some examples of the attachments we have made in all or in part using a 3D printer.
This holder was custom printed to hold multiple small bird skulls.
These U-shaped holders have been printed in a variety of sized to accommodate slab specimens or anything else that will fit in them and are very versatile.
These holders are more generic and use a combination of found materials (a clear plastic cylinder, a falcon tube, and a tupperware container) and 3D printed parts. The hot glue gun is very useful for these.
In February I decided to take a short animal illustration class at Lillstreet Art Center and found the experience rewarding, mostly for the community, inspiration, and motivation that I got from it. The first two illustrations here came from that class. I plan on staying involved in this lively community and have signed up for an embroidery class for May, which I plan on using as another way to express biological visualization and for fun. The second two images here are samplings of sketches I did on trips to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Though it can be difficult to capture animals in motion, I found the experience very relaxing, and enjoyed spending time observing the way the animals move and behave.
Some of you may be familiar with the recent proliferation of the five day art challenge on Facebook. If not, it is, as the name states, a five day challenge to post 3 or more pieces of new or old art. When I was nominated, I found that the combination of looking through my old work and sharing new work energized me to sketch and create more. It was a valuable experience, I think. Whereas I don’t plan on posting work here everyday, I will make it a goal to post some work (sketches, work in progress, even past work) monthly or bi-monthly. Today, I’d like to share some sketches that I’ve played around with since the beginning of the year.