Enjoy This Dead Fly Encased in a 3D Print: Is it Art, a Valuable Fossil, or Evidence of the Anthropocene Era?

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[Image: Physics World]

Are you one of those people who swats flies to their death with wild abandon, wielding the fly swatter as a lethal weapon? Many of us are serious about ridding our environment of these pests, one by one. Others bring to mind the saying ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’ and in lieu of the fly swatter or the rolled-up newspaper, will direct the buzzing, tiny winged creatures out the door or window with care. And then there are makers like Eifion Jewell who take a different approach, allowing the common fly to become completely fossilized by way of 3D print.

You may have thought you’d heard and seen it all at this point when it comes to 3D, but it’s safe to say the world is going to keep on surprising you—with the ‘fossil of the 21st century’ as a great example. While Jewell was curious as to why the fly would decide to enter his 3D print in progress, perhaps the design was the answer. At the time, he was 3D printing with a honeycomb type of structure. Perhaps the fly thought he was checking out something being created by bees instead of humans. No matter his reasoning, the fly met his death inside the piece of plastic.

While some may have seen this is as a flaw in their carefully fabricated object, Jewell was bemused enough to save it. The senior lecturer in Engineering from Swansea University in Wales shared the misadventures of the fly on social media and instigated a discussion regarding the ‘fossil,’ as well as whether this is a sign of an Anthropocene era. There is also the question of who might find this hunk of plastic discarded somewhere hundreds of years from now, pondering its meaning.

[Image: Richard Johnston/Twitter]

You may consider this just a piece of common plastic, but Cornell Professor Drew Harvell points out that 3D printing may actually offer innovation for preservation in an unexpected way—such as the fly. Harvell is a researcher and a curator with a special interest in art and glass sculptures. Today, she has taken on a project in 3D scanning and 3D printing with the goal of replicating glass sculptures. Professor Harvell was inspired by the work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, a father and son team of glassblowers who became well-known for creating pieces depicting plants and marine life. Their work was so realistic that the subjects look as if they are frozen in time.

Harvell realizes how useful 3D printed replicas can be for priceless artworks and artifacts as they can be touched and inspected by the public while the originals are kept safe. She is working with high-performance 3D printers that use multiple types of materials, as well as color.

[Image: Richard Johnston/Twitter]

“We knew the 3D-imaging and printing of the Blaschka glass figures would be challenging. However, we have been very impressed with the vividness and quality of our first-cut prints from the Stratasys J750. We look forward to more 3D printing activity and hope these prints will help us grow awareness for these beautiful figures,” said Harvell.

3D printing is also helpful today to a growing number of museums and archaelogists who enjoy sharing their work, whether in research work with peers or sharing with students and the public in a variety of different shows and programs. Just several years ago, few research teams would have realized how valuable 3D scanning and 3D printing would be in offering them access around the world to artifacts—simply with the emailing of a digital file. While the value of Jewell’s fly may be questionable, it may lead to some innovation in the future, whether for preservation techniques or a new style of art. Whether you are a scientist, artist, teacher, or industrial designer—the choices for creating with 3D scanning and 3D printing are truly infinite.

Find out more about Professor Harvell and her work with the Stratasys 3D printer here. Discuss in the 21st Century Fossil forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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