3D Printing Keeps a Head on Dippy the Dinosaur’s Shoulders

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Standing at 25 to 30 meters long and weighing approximately 16 tons, the gargantuan Diplodocus carnegii dinosaur roamed the Earth during the Jurassic period, masticating vegetation that had been stripped from branches using its specialized teeth and just generally being enormously awesome. Its sheer scale provided it protection from the predators with whom it shared the stage, such as the Allosaurus (the Jurassic equivalent in star power of the later T. Rex). Given the fact that nothing else since then has even come close to the size of these creatures, the fact that despite intense study we still know so little, and the invention of modern CGI for blockbuster movies, Diplodocus and its other dinosaur buddies remain a wellspring of fascination for us tiny humans.

[Image: Matthew Martyniuk]

Unfortunately, their fossils aren’t as abundant as we wish they were, and complete fossils are even rarer still. Luckily, we have scores of museums and even more dedicated paleontologists and museum curators to help share what humanity has uncovered. Given the relative rarity of the fossils and their absolutely irreplaceable nature, it has been difficult to share them and previously, if you didn’t live near a museum with a good skeleton, you had to rely only on drawings and written descriptions. With the recognition that 3D technologies provide a way to scan the fossils without touching them and 3D printing creates a method for replication ad infinitum, more and more people have the ability to stand in the presence of dinosaurs than ever before.

The 3D printed heads for the UK Dippy tour are being produced at LPE’s Castlereagh premises

Previously, copies of dinosaur skeletons were made using plaster casting, and such is the case with the 105-foot skeleton of a Diplodocus which has been in the collection of the National History Museum of London since 1902 when it was given as a gift by Andrew Carnegie to King Edward VII. From 1979 to 2017, the fossil cast, nicknamed ‘Dippy,’ stood in the entry way to the museum, but it is now on tour and set to arrive in Belfast this coming September as part of a larger tour of the UK museums and cathedrals.

Prior to being given his send off on this tour, a complete scan of the cast was made, recording every detail of each piece. In order to prepare for its travel, Laser Prototypes Europe (LPE), located in Belfast, a 3D printing specialist and the longest running rapid prototyping and manufacturing enterprise in Britain and Ireland, has created no fewer than eight 3D printed skulls. It was an exciting project, as LPE’s Sales Director, Campbell Evans, explained:

“Our process was perfect for recreating the complex free-form shape of Dippy’s skull, giving an exact copy of the scanned data. The project was a really interesting one for LPE, as much of our work is for electronic housings, covers, connectors and everyday engineering components. It’s not every day we see a dinosaur coming through the doors, let alone eight of them.”

The Natural History Museum’s much-loved skeleton of a Diplodocus – nicknamed Dippy – has gone on tour of the UK, with its replica skull made in Belfast

The folks at LPE are being somewhat modest as their past projects have included the creation of props for Game of Thrones and a ‘magic hand’ for one of Lady Gaga’s performances, but there is no denying there is something especially thrilling about reproducing the skull of such an amazing creature. Printed in a lightweight, durable resin, each skull weighs about six and a half pounds, and while five will be distributed to Real World Science partner institutions and one will remain in London, two will be making the rounds with Dippy to ensure that wherever he travels, he can always do so with his head firmly planted on his neck.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: Irish News]

 

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