German Team Recreates Dinosaur Fossils With 3D Printing
November 20, 2013

German Team Recreates Dinosaur Fossils With 3D Printing

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

3D printing has already revolutionized the world of design, and it has begun to make its way into the production of actual products.

Now researchers have found a way to extract DNA from ancient fossilized bones and use 3D printing technology to create accurate copies. While it won’t be able to bring back living dinosaurs like those seen in “Jurassic Park,” this technique could soon make it a lot easier to replicate rare fossils and, more importantly, do so without damaging the rare and delicate originals.

A team of German researchers have been studying the feasibility of utilizing data from computed tomography (CT) scans along with 3D printers to create the copies of the fossils.

This is noteworthy because most dinosaur fossils are stored in plaster casts or jackets, and gathering information about these specimens requires their removal from storage. Traditionally to make a copy required that all sediment surrounding the fossil needed to be cleaned, and during this process, material could be lost, while there was also the risk of damage to the fossil itself.

The CT scans allow for the fossils to be copied without ever being removed from the plaster jackets.

“The most important benefit of this method is that it is non-destructive, and the risk of harming the fossil is minimal,” said study author Ahi Sema Issever, MD, from the Department of Radiology at Charité Campus Mitte in Berlin, via a statement. “Also, it is not as time-consuming as conventional preparation.”

This study is also notable in that the researchers are also trying to identify fossils that were damaged during the Second World War, and the CT scans helped solve what has long been a mystery – namely what exactly is in many of the plaster jackets.

A group of plaster jackets was discovered beneath piles of rubble in the ruins of Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde after the war. While the museum was restored following the damage it received during a wartime air raid, some of the fossil specimens have been difficult to identify.

The CT scanning technology has helped solve the mystery, as it has allowed for a detailed rendering that can be fed into a 3D printer, from which an accurate reconstruction of the fossil can be made.

Researchers were able to perform a CT scan on an unidentified fossil, utilizing a process that involved a 320-slice multi-detector system, which provided a clear view of the bone. From this the researchers were even able to trace the fossil’s origin to the Halberstadt excavation, which was a major dig from 1910 to 1927. Numerous dinosaur fossils were found in a clay pit south of the German city of Halberstadt.

“The digital dataset and, ultimately, reproductions of the 3-D 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 added. “Just like Gutenberg's printing press opened the world of books to the public, digital datasets and 3-D prints of fossils may now be distributed more broadly, while protecting the original intact fossil.”

While it won’t allow those dinosaurs to be seen in the flesh, this technology could potentially create a global interchange of unique fossils between various institutions including museums and schools where endless exact copies could be produced and displayed.

The results of the study were published in the journal Radiology.