Showcasing the Beauty of a Trilobite through 3D Printing


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post-19906-0-68451800-1450938211Alas, the humble trilobite will probably never star in its own Saturday morning cartoon or make it into next year’s lineup of Beanie Babies, mostly because it is distinctly unhuggable. It has a much greater chance of gaining popular recognition in the role as some sort of space creature that causes Sigourney Weaver to become highly uncomfortable. Its cause is not helped by the fact that it is unlikely to show up to any promotional events due to the fact that after 270 million years of being at the center of the Earth’s social scene it has since had the poor taste to become extinct.

During their heyday, there were some 17,000 species of trilobite and as a result of their proliferation, the fossil record is replete with evidence of their existence. These tantalizing glimpse at pre-pre-historic creepy-crawlies left the soft-hearted Dr. Allan Drummond longing to appreciate them in all of their glory, complete with legs, antennae, and gills. Luckily, Dr. Drummond is a responsible biochemistry and human genetics researcher and not some mad scientist with an odd affinity for Frankenstein-esque reanimation of dead tissue. Rather than attempting to harness the power of lightning to bring these creatures back to life (and most likely make them part of his plans to take over the world), he decided on the much more practical route of creating models of them via 3D printing.

post-19906-0-50716600-1445143298As you can probably imagine, a project like this starts with a good, hard look at an enormous number of the creatures. Upon doing so, even the veteran trilobite-enthusiast was surprised:

“The first step was to look at as many trilobites as possible and choose one. I’ve always loved these fossils, but the moment they turned from fossils into living organisms for me was when I saw the new generation of preparations displayed at Chicago’s Field Museum. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. In my mind, trilobites were flat, if beautiful, prmitive creatures. Seeing those preparations made it clear how not-flat and not-primitve they were.”

post-19906-0-06444600-1445148408While ‘not-flat’ and ‘not-primitive’ are hardly the descriptors that might move some to poetic action, Drummond was as enthusiastic as ever about exploring the little beasts in 3D. When sifting through approximately 17,000 options, it’s good to have a clear idea of the criteria to be used to evaluate the final selection. Drummond knew that he was going to 3D print the equivalent of a Miss Universe specimen from among the trilobites and wanted to ensure he picked one that was ideal for that means of production. In order to do so, he used the Goldilocks method: this one is too simple, this one is too fragile…this one is just right.

“Ceraurus is idea. They have long yet substantial genal [head segment] and pygidial [tail segment] spines, complex thoracic armor, gorgeous curves, unmistakable trilobite form. Enough detail to warrant 3D printing, enough structural solidity to survive it.”

topIn other words, they answered his ‘wanted’ ad with the total package, but before he could hold the prints in his hands, he first had to create  the drawings that he would turn into 3D models using Inkscape then Blender. After the models had been worked and reworked, they were sent to a form printer. After each piece was created it was cut from its base and polished. When all of the pieces were ready, they were assembled and then cast in variety of metals. The final pieces were given a patina using liver of sulfur, a witchy sounding concoction that softens the perfect shine into a subtly mottled finish.

The finished pieces are quite lovely and, dare I say it, kind of lovable. The 3D printed shell is even available via Shapeways. It’s hard not to share Drummond’s enthusiasm:

“I’m very happy with how it turned out. When you hold [the model] in your hand, it practically squirms. You can imagine her exploring her world, questing with her antennae, seeking prey and potential mates.”

Maybe that actually could be the pilot episode for a new Saturday morning cartoon character: Trudy the Trilobite.  Discuss this story in the 3D Printed Trilobite forum on

[Source: Nerdist]

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