Italian Paleontologist Turns to Materialise to Help 3D Print Trilobite Fossils

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3dpAlthough—in the grand scheme of things—3D printing is a relatively new technology in the eyes of humanity, that certainly doesn’t mean that it can’t be used to recreate some of the most ancient artifacts and fossils scattered throughout the Earth. Over the past year, we’ve seen 3D printing technology help recreate the oldest chameleon fossil ever found, as well as a 1220-foot Titanosaur fossil. Even some of the world’s tiniest fossils have been digitally resized and 3D printed so that a paleontologist from the University of Oxford could better examine them. Now, trilobites, which are a group of extinct marine arthropods, are undergoing their own unique form of 3D printed treatment.

Dr. Gianpaolo Di Silvestro, established paleontologist and CEO of the Italian company Trilobite Design Italia, specializes in this group of extinct arthropods, and uses his company to sell both original trilobite fossils and model replicas to collectors, institutions, and museums across the globe. After realizing that a great number of museums were able to provide text information on these fossils, but not a true physical representation, Dr. Di Silvestro decided to provide these museums with palpable trilobite models that would allow visitors to actually hold the ancient past in the palms of their hands. Since traditional fossil casting and modeling proved to be much too costly and time-consuming, Dr. Di Silvestro instead collaborated with Italian architect and 3D designer Francesco Baldassare to work in tandem and design accurate 3D models of trilobites.

FullSizeRender-2-768x1024Although a number of 3D printing service bureaus rejected Dr. Di Silvestro’s 3D fossil models due to their design complexity, the Materialise office in Italy rose to the occasion and helped bring these trilobites back to our physical reality. For Dr. Di Silvestro and Baldassare, Materialise’s 3D printing technology has provided them with the ideal solution. The production time for these models was significantly reduced compared to traditional hand-sculpting methods, and reconstructing these fossils into a 3D model could essentially be performed anywhere, enabling the duo to explore some historical coffee bars in Trieste while they worked on the project. 3D printing also provided flexibility in the arthropod models. After a short stint of trial-and-error, they were eventually able to accurately 3D print a hard exoskeleton, as well as softer inner tissues and other missing parts.

The finished 3D printed trilobite model

The finished 3D printed trilobite model

“We are projecting ancient creatures that lived 430 million years ago, so it isn’t easy to know exactly how they’ll turn out,” said Dr. Di Silvestro. “But it worked – even the first print was excellent! With an easy download process and professional response to all our requests, Materialise helped us to develop our ideas into high-quality images and scale them for a perfect product print.”

These 3D printed trilobites have already started popping up in museum exhibits around the world. The first complete 3D printed trilobite model realized by Trilobite Design Italia is currently on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. In the near future, Dr. Di Silvestro also hopes to collaborate with assorted museums to develop special tactile exhibitions to help the blind get the same hands-on experience. For those who are true paleontology enthusiasts, Dr. Di Silvestro has a wide array of real and rare trilobite fossils from across the ancient world, available for purchase on his Trilobite Design Italia website. Discuss further in the 3D Printed Trilobite forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Materialise]

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