3-D printing allows students to produce replicas of ancient specimens

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Ancient specimens in the anthropology department’s material cultures lab. Photo credit/Traci Foster
Ancient specimens in the anthropology department’s material cultures lab. Photo credit/Traci Foster

Staff Writer

IU South Bend alumnus and guest adjunct lecturer in anthropology Darryl Ricketts brought his personal 3-D printer to campus this semester.

Located in the anthropology department’s material cultures lab, the 3D printer has allowed students to make and observe exact replicas of ancient fossil specimens, Ricketts said.

“They’re not only learning about ancient hominids and early humans, but they’re learning about technology such as 3-D printing. It kind of serves as a merger between technology and the sciences,” he said.

3-D printers are increasingly used for additive manufacturing, a process where 3-D data is used to build a component in layers by depositing a material, usually plastic.

“We use ABS plastic which is the type of plastic used for LEGOs,” Ricketts said.

The cost of a 3-D printer generally ranges from $2,000 to $25,000, and scanning a specimen can take anywhere between five hours and 25 hours. His 3D printer has half-millimeter accuracy.

Recently, Ricketts created a 3-D print of the skull and bottom jaw of Homo-Naledi, a new species discovered in 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The team of 47 anthropologists who found Homo-Naledi published their findings on September 9, 2015, making the information available to Ricketts and his students. They promptly created an exact 3-D replica.

“It’s almost like a virtual autopsy,” Ricketts said about examining printed versions of ancient fossils with his students.

Ricketts himself graduated from IUSB in 2010 with a degree in anthropology and psychology. He then attended medical school at Boston College and graduated in 2013 with a master’s degree in forensic anthropology.

“Working with IUSB students and the IUSB anthropology department has been a phenomenal experience,” Ricketts said.

For more information regarding 3D printing, please contact Darryl Ricketts at drricket@iusb.edu or at colorsonfriday@yahoo.com.

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