3-D Printing Gets Ahead: How Does a Printer Make a Fossil?
3-D printers can create models and prototypes, replicas of your head, even living tissues—and at Lehman College, they reproduce and reconstruct ancient fossils
Credits: Sophie Bushwick
GETTING AHEAD: If all goes well, "support material" falls away to reveal the model of a long-lost primate's bones. So researchers have literally printed out a skull—albeit made of simulated plastic, not bone.
ACCIDENTAL MUTANTS: Sometimes, an error in the printer leads to models with filled-in eye sockets or other "mutations," earning the skewed replica a place on this shelf of deformed skulls.
CLEANING UP: When a fossil model emerges from the lab printer, the product is covered with a yellowish, semitransparent support material that will crumble off under the pressure of a water jet. To prevent the jet from soaking the rest of the lab, the model is placed in this box, held steady by human hands inserted into the rubber gloves seen protruding through the front. The windshield wiper ensures good visibility during the process.
READY TO ROLL: Before fossil replica printing begins at the lab, a clear window on the printer's front must be closed to prevent dust and other contaminants from entering the chamber that houses the printhead.
Sophie Bushwick Advertisement
BELLY OF THE BEAST: The wire-covered printhead at left moves back and forth over the printer tray at center, depositing resin layer by layer to build up a replica of the digital bone. After the printing is completed here at the lab, a completed physical copy will be sitting on the central tray, matching its digital twin on the computer screen.
CHOMPING AT THE BIT: Open a computer file, and this digital mandible appears on the 3-D printer tray at the Lehman College 3D Virtual and Solid Visualization Lab. A user can rotate, move and blow up or shrink down a jawbone, for instance, until satisfied that it's ready to print.
VIRTUAL REALITY: The tray shown on the left monitor is a digital representation of a physical tray, located in the body of the 3-D printer. Meanwhile, the monitor on the right displays data about the printer, such as whether it needs a fresh printing resin cartridge.
3D VIRTUAL AND SOLID VISUALIZATION LAB: Lehman College graduate student Claudia Astorino operates the Objet Eden260 3-D printer [
right]. The cartridges of printing resin (a material that will harden into a rigid blue plastic-like material) and support material, which together form the basis of the printed products, sit on the table behind the printer, and the beige box at left houses a water jet used to clean support material off products when they first emerge from the printer. Sophie Bushwick Advertisement Advertisement