3-D printing of rocks and fossils

Sep 18, 2014

By Science Daily

Franek Hasiuk grabbed a little red ball and said it’s not every day you pick up Mars.

But there it was, a Mars model about the size of a golf ball and just detailed enough to show Olympus Mons, a Martian volcano nearly 14 miles high and three times the height of Mt. Everest.

“You get a sense of how high it sticks up from the rest of the planet,” said Hasiuk, an Iowa State University assistant professor of geological and atmospheric sciences and David Morehouse Faculty Fellow. “It’s just spectacular.”

That little globe is just one product of Hasiuk’s Geological Fabrication Laboratory (or GeoFabLab), a narrow corner room in the basement of Iowa State’s Science Hall. The lab specializes in 3-D scanning and printing — as it says on the lab website, it’s all about “making things geological!”

10 comments on “3-D printing of rocks and fossils

  • 3D printing is a great innovation.

    @op – But there it was, a Mars model about the size of a golf ball and just detailed enough to show Olympus Mons, a Martian volcano nearly 14 miles high and three times the height of Mt. Everest.

    Model planets from satellite imaging sounds great.


    Comet models anyone?

    On an earlier discussions we looked at printing organs for human transplants and sintered metal printed rocket-engine injectors.

    This technology should make major industrial changes and revolutionise supplies of parts for local equipment assembly.


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  • I found an excellent site that allows you to download and print off STL files from CT scans of fossils. I printed off 5 homonid skulls (the year 10’s were about to cover evolution) and fossil of a prehistoric platypus (they had teeth), a prehistoric dolphin and others. I was showing some students the 3D printer (from a graphics class) and this year 11 girl is holding one of the early homonids. She says and I quote “So these were all humans”, I said “these were early homonids. We evolved from from either these or others like these”, I showed her where the brain stem entered indicating they walked upright and not at the back like chimps. “So what’s all this Jesus shit about then!”.

    I gently chided her for her language and being careful not to tread over the fundamentalist beliefs of the student standing next to her said something like “The fossil evidence like this and now the genetic evidence clearly indicates we evolved from animals like this over the last few million years”. Sometimes all it takes is exposure to the evidence. Many of these kids (particularly those who grow up with fundamentalist parents) never visit a museum or watch a documentary. They simply are never exposed to the actual evidence. Each skull cost in terms of PLA about $1.50 clearly the machine cost has to be considered but at about $2000 and being used across several subjects I teach that still means very inexpensive resources particularly in science. There are many free downloads of various things which would be excellent in science particularly around physics.

    The beauty of 3D printing is holding the pieces in your hands really let’s you see things very clearly, one of the hominid skulls I printed has a very large Zygomatic Arch (I think), putting your fingers through it and comparing it to the same on the modern human skull makes it so clear that they must have had to have massive muscles in their jaws to chew or bite. Now I had downloaded the scans looked at them in 3D, I had seem this feature but it wasn’t until I printed it and held it that the full weight of the feature really struck home every science high school lab should have one of these printers humming away making resources (when the cheaper end of the market are more reliable-I spend a lot of time unclogging, adjusting the bed basically fiddling to no end to keep the thing printing properly) but when working it is simply brilliant!

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  • Nice story, Reckless Monkey, about the child questioning the validity of the whole Jesus thing (and it’s strangely funny to learn that those words came from an 11-year-old!). Looks to me like you’ve really come up with a great idea.


    Bringing our ancestors into the classroom in that manner seems like a wonderful way of making kids curious about our past. Makes me think that if they can hold a copy of a non-human hominid skull in their hands then their fundamentalist parents won’t be able to pull the wool over their eyes so easily. And even if their mums and dads are not as religious, getting up close and personal with evolution like that will help pupils appreciate how humans came to be, in a way that they would not after simply reading a science text book.


    Great idea of yours.

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  • Hi atheezilla,

    Thanks it made my day, She was year 11 at school doing a graphics class, so she would have been about 17 actually. I teach I.C.T’s, art and Media at the moment and have taught science for a few years but not this year. I made the models for the year 10 science kids (15 to 16 years old) who are doing evolution next term, but as I was using the printer in the next room to the computer room they were doing graphics in I pulled a few students in to get some exposure to the 3D printer to let them see a potential application for things they were modelling, We got to talking about 3D printing and I pulled out the skulls to show them as examples of what it could do. So I’m quietly confident that there will be some kids who on holding comparing the 5 early hominid skulls the prehistoric and modern platypus skulls a few brains might click! Here’s hoping.

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  • Alan4discussion Sep 18, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Comet models anyone?

    It seems I was not the only one thinking this!


    Files to ‘print your own’ Rosetta comet

    Europe’s space agency (Esa) has finally released a proper model for the shape of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

    The organisation’s Rosetta mission will try to put a small robot on the surface of this “ice mountain” on 12 November.

    The model provides some further details on the comet’s size, and also allows enthusiasts to print their own 3D version of the duck-shaped object.

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  • Just saw on the news that there will be a more practical use for 3D printers.

    Scientists are using 3D printing to create ears which will be used to
    help children with deformities.

    Professor Alex Selfalian and his team at University College London are
    just months away from the start of a unique trial that will help
    youngsters with hearing difficulties.

    The breakthrough could lead to the 3D printing of other body parts as
    well as body organs.

    Researchers hope the clinical trial will begin on children both here
    in the UK and in India next year.

    Professor Alex Seifalian, head of nanotechnology and regenerative
    medicine at University College, said: “We make human organs and we’ve
    been doing it manually. We have a synthetic material now we’ve moved
    to 3D printing.”

    There are already more than a dozen children waiting to take part in
    Mumbai where there is a desperate need for this type of facial

    Michelle Griffin, a surgeon at University College Hospital, explained
    that when children are born without ears or congenital deformities of
    the ear, they have to undergo invasive surgery.

    He added: “However if we can just 3D print the ear that limits four or
    five operations to just one operation”.

    Once an ear has been printed it is used to create a scaffold that is
    then transferred into a rat.

    This is designed to allow skin and blood vessels to grow into it.

    Prof Seifalian concluded: “In the future I believe surgeons, patients
    can call up and order organs. I will be able to order and print a new
    ear in a matter of days.”

    You can see more of this on Inside Out London, BBC1, 19:30, Oct 6


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