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Print your own dinosaur bones

by Carol Ko , Staff Writer

Hasiuk is the proprietor of the GeoFabLab, an online hub that provides instructions and tips on how to print your own 3-D models, along with a repository of scanned models that the public can download, print and use.

The inspiration came out of Hasiuk's former line of work in the oil and gas industry, where he often performed research on porosity, which includes testing the way toxic liquids such as mercury move through rocks.
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"A lot of the tests we do are destructive — the sample has to be thrown away or destroyed," he explained.

The advantage of 3-D printing is that researchers like Hasiuk will be able to scan any given porous rock and replicate it numerous times, meaning the exact same rock can be tested on, manipulated or destroyed as many times as researchers want — a huge boon for scientific research, which relies on reproducible results and repetition.

Printing these rocks isn't without its challenges. "They're able to produce solid things, but with something porous, you're trying to print something that's not there, which is not what 3-D printers were traditionally designed to do," Hasiuk explained.

The technology, which is still relatively new, has opened up many new unexpected applications for scientists, and its full value has yet to be explored.

Flexible 3-D models of fossils, for example, can enable researchers to move the specimens as they may have moved when they were alive, helping them visualize and make connections in a way that's impossible to do by examining scans.

Hasiuk isn't the only one excited about the educational potential of this new technology: the Smithsonian Institution announced last week the launch of a new web portal that allows users to access scanned, printable 3-D models of objects from its massive collection, including the Wright brothers' first airplane and a woolly mammoth fossil from the Ice Age.

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