3D Printing (re)Produces 65 Million Year Old Mating Call

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As we edge closer to Valentine’s Day, many of you may be wondering: “If I were a dinosaur, how would I be able to best express my love for the object of my affection?”

Should you find yourself among those who seek to answer this question, it is now quite possible that you can hear the sound that a dinosaur, specifically a Corythosaurus, might have made in order to express his deepest attraction. Even, however, if the question of dinosaur romance never crossed your mind before, stick around because this is still a pretty interesting project.

Photo by Sharif Razzaque | Courtesy photo Courtney Brown blows into a dinosaur skull replica to produce dinosaur-like noises during an art gallery demonstration at ASU's eMerge Festival and Gallery Show in Tempe on March 2, 2013.

Photo by Sharif Razzaque
Courtney Brown blowing into a dinosaur skull replica to produce dinosaur-like noises in a 2013 art gallery demonstration

It all started when Courtney Brown decided it was time to explore outside of the East Coast of the United States. She was going to be beginning her doctoral studies in interdisciplinary digital media and performance at Arizona State University and thought it important to have seen the surroundings of her new home base, explaining:

“I was coming here to start my doctorate, and I had only ever been on the East Coast. So, I was taking this long trip from Virginia to here, and we were stopping at things along the way, and there was a dinosaur museum. It was very novel to me, I guess.”

Inside that dinosaur museum, she met her first Corythosaurus and started wondering about the kinds of sounds that it might have made. Some people might have let this casually cross their minds and then gone on about their daily routine, but Brown is not one to let go of such an interesting question. Instead, beginning in 2011, she spent several years working on creating a replica of the creature’s skull in an effort to hear the sounds it would have made.

The first step was to generate the CT scan data needed to create a 3D replica. Her original plan had been to translate that data into a digital model that would be sent to a 3D printer. Unfortunately, the size of the skull, nearly 28 inches high at its crest and 32 inches from tip to base, presented a problem given the 3D printer bed sizes in the machines which Brown could access. As she searched for ways to create this skull, she worked closely with Sharif Razzaque, who summed up the problem presented:

“It became a lot harder than we expected. In particular, she wanted to make this life-sized…most things that come out of a standard 3D printer that cost only a few thousand dollars are maybe the size of a mug.”

1280px-Corythosaurus_casuarius,_Dinosaur_Provincial_Park,_Alberta,_Canada,_Late_Cretaceous_-_Royal_Ontario_Museum_-_DSC00023

“Corythosaurus casuarius, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada, Late Cretaceous – Royal Ontario Museum – DSC00023” by Daderot

In the end, they settled for using 3D printing to create the nasal passages and used a large machine tool to create the rest of the skull. Just as the dinosaur would have done, air was then blown through the larynx and the sound modified naturally by the shape of the interior of the skull. The main difference, of course, being that instead of being produced by the lungs of the gargantuan creature, it was instead a result of the air blown into it by Brown’s human sized lungs. No matter, the sound is haunting, especially when you realize that we are listening to something that hasn’t been heard for roughly 65 million years.

The dinosaur, a duck billed creature which looked a bit like Gypsy from Mystery Science Theater, gets a chance to sing its song as part of a performance by Brown called How to Speak Dinosaur where it speaks in a mood set by a forest noises and a tuba. It will change the way you look at dinosaurs and, hopefully, the way we listen to them.

And I have to admit, after listening to its song, I may have developed a bit of a crush.  Discuss this story in the 3D Printed Dinosaur Mating Call Forum thread on 3dpb.com.

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