Replications help paleontologists better understand how the prehistoric animals moved and lived in their environments.
Researchers at Drexel University are using 3D printing to gain a greater understanding of dinosaurs’ movements and how they lived in their environments. Instead of heavily relying on a mixture of guesswork and common sense, printed replica models of real fossils will enable paleontologists to actually test their predictions and hypotheses. Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, said:
Technology in paleontology hasn’t changed in about 150 years. We use shovels and pickaxes and burlap and plaster. It hasn’t changed — until right now.
Lacovara is working with Dr. James Tangorra, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, to print the scale models of fossil bones. First, 3D scans of giant dinosaur bones are taken, creating a virtual image that researchers can manipulate and analyze. These can then be brought to life using 3D printing technology. Robotic models with artificial muscles and tendons will be created to help the researchers learn how the dinosaur’s body handled the physical stresses of the environment. Lacovara predicts that they will have a working robotic dinosaur limb constructed by the end of the year.