Explore the world’s first 3D fossil collection – and print your own

  • October 14, 2013

The digital 3D database includes hi-res 3D images of fossil type specimens, including this one of an ammonite fossil.

The British Geological Survey has launched the world’s first collection of 3D fossils, named GB3D Type Fossils Online.

The revolutionary digital database includes thousands of hi-res images of fossils housed in various British collections, and enables users to browse images and view 3D images as models, which you can rotate to all angles on your screen, or simply observe in wonder through 3D glasses.

A collaboration between the British Geological Survey and the National Museum Cardiff, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Science, Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Geological Curators’ Group, GB3D Type Fossils Online is funded by JISC, a registered charity that champions the use of digital technology in research and education in the UK.

The aim of the project is the creation of a single database of fossil type specimens held in British collections, including links to photos and 3D digital models.

At present the database contains a small selection of specimens, yet it is nonetheless impressive. Users can even print out the 3D models if they so desire, provided they have the required technology.

Watch a video about the 3D project below

Courtesy of the British Geographical Survey Channel 

3D fossil printing in South Africa

The GB3D Type Fossils Online project represents a significant leap for global palaeoanthropology, says Lindsay Marshall, Maropeng’s communication and marketing head.

“It demonstrates the incredible potential of 3D scanning and printing technology – a digital interface that can be used in the spheres of science, education and palaeoanthropology,” she says.

Wits University’s Palaeosciences Centre of Excellence is a pioneer of 3D printing and scanning technology in the fossil field.

The Centre is home to a Microfocus X-ray Computed Tomography facility and Virtual Imaging in Palaeontology lab.

The facility, which was made possible via substantial funding by the National Research Foundation, the National Department of Science and Technology and the Wits Research Office, basically enables the non-invasive and non-destructive investigation of objects, including fossils.

The facility enables the imaging of internal structures and can reconstruct or extract objects embedded in other substances, such as fossils embedded in matrix. It also performs analyses of 3D geometries of objects.

In application, the facility is extraordinary and enables research beyond the physical tradition of fossil extraction, in that fossils embedded in rock can be analysed without having to extract them fully.

The facility also includes a ZCorp 450 3D printer, a colour and powder-base printer that enables printing of materials at 150-micron resolution.

“By using the 3D scanner and imaging lab, palaeontologists at Wits can explore fossils embedded in rock without having to physically extract the specimens. It’s a whole new world out there,” she adds.

Users can search and explore the e-fossil database online, and can even print their own!

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