Science educator Barry Joseph (@MMMooshme, pictured in the bottom photo) is the Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, at the American Museum of Natural History. One of the projects at AMNH that has had a tremendous impact on how educators look at the possibilities for integrating 3D printing into the classroom has been a project the 3D scan and 3D print dinosaur bones.
From an article from Gizmodo about the initiative:
Pterosaur bones don’t exactly grow on trees. From creatures that could be as small as sparrows and as big as F-16 fighter jets in their time, pterosaur fossils are very rare. Connected by thin membranes, their brittle bones were more often than not smashed and not well preserved. The AMNH—which has in its collection upwards of three million fossil specimens—only has six cabinets of pterosaurs, amounting to around 12 specimens. An even smaller percentage of those are actually scannable.
But if you can’t find more, then why not just reproduce what you have?
Several departments are collaborating at the museum in the name of 3D printing. For example, we shadowed Joseph, senior scientific assistant Carl Meling from the palaeontology department, and lab tech Morgan Hill from the imaging department as the carefully combed through those cabinets to decide which bones they wanted to 3D print. The process was tedious, but, ultimately, they were able to land on a few scannable examples. So what exactly is the criteria for a dino bone to be 3D printed?
“There are a few,” Joseph told us. “First, would this be of interest to an educator? If I have a physical version, could I teach this? Then, is it nice for a student to look at? Like, can you appreciate how it was found and understand something and learn from being able to spin it around around and look at it from different sides?”
After nixing pancaked bones and crushed carcasses, Joseph landed on a near-pristine pterosaur skull and popped it in the MakerBot Digitizer. The process takes about 11 minutes, after which the scan can be converted into an .stl file. At some point in the spring, these files will be made available to anyone who wants them, educator or otherwise, and you won’t even need a 3D printer to use them. Just want to look at some skulls in 3D on a screen? That’s why the AMNH is scanning these bones, too. 3D printing and its growing suite of tools are opening up plenty of opportunities.
“In the education department, thinking about maker culture and how it’s impacting informal learning in general, and specifically informal science learning—that is a new area for us,” Joseph raved. “We’re an object-based museum as a natural history museum. The idea of getting to manipulate things and construct them in a creative way is good for teaching phenomena and to educate the populace. We can use them in a way that helps people connect with objects, learn how to look at them, learn how to care about and understand their origins, and learn what scientists have done to collect them and present them in the museum,” Joseph explained….
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