An encounter between prehistory and high technology, where Artec Leo comes face to face with a dinosaur skull

Product: Artec Leo
Industry: Academic

Dinosaurs – Creatures that have inspired study and research for centuries, and continue to intrigue millions of people around the world today. For the preserved remains of a triceratops roaming the Earth in prehistoric times, modern technology has attributed a status few dinosaur fossils have achieved: digital immortality.

Originally discovered in 1891 near the village of Lance Creek, Wyoming, the skull of this herbivore was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. until the late 1970s. He was then loaned to the CU Museum, where he now resides; the current museum was literally built around this skull.

“The Smithsonian estimated how much it would cost to tear down that wall, pull this thing out and return it, because they own it, and it was so expensive and risky that no one wanted to do it,” says Nick Conklin, Application Engineer II of Artec’s certified partner Gold, 3D Printing Colorado. This means that the skull, in principle, stays where it is, but with 3D scanning technology, there are now previously impossible possibilities.

When Conklin and his partner David Cano first visited the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History in January this year, it was for sale by a Artec Leo 3D scanner. “As we entered, we saw the skull of the triceratops and thought, ‘Hey, that would be a really cool scan, we should do it sometime!'” conklin recalls.

With each scanner that sells 3D Printing Colorado, training is included. But for Dr. William Taylor, curator of archaeology at the university, already familiar with Artec 3D scanners, another add-on was suggested.

“Dr. Taylor had already used artec Space Spider a lot, so instead of training, he decided to bring the Leo to one of his classes,” Conklin says. “He wanted us to show his students what can be done with Leo and scanning technology.”

Thus began a project of prehistoric proportions, to digitize a dinosaur skull completely.

“For 30 or 40 minutes, at one of Dr. Taylor’s night classes, I was scanning the skull of the triceratops while talking to the students, explaining what he was doing, so it was a great apprenticeship,” Conklin says. This skull scan quickly caught CU Media’s attention.

“The university’s media was everywhere, and they wanted to take pictures and videos of a dinosaur being scanned,” says Cano. “Once they found out about this, they invited us back, and this time instead of a teaching experience, it was more of a movie photo shoot,” Conklin adds.

During his second scan, something helped a lot in the session, a ladder. “With the ladder, I was able to get some details that had slipped away from me before, so it was much better,” Conklin says.

The scan took a total of 30 minutes, while the scan processing was completed in artec Studio3D software in two hours.

Using Leo, most of the surfaces were near the ground. “I was able to get everything except the top peaks from the ground with my normal range and range of motion,” Conklin says. “With his large field of view and the ease with which Leo gets the data, it was very easy. I wasn’t just scanning, as I was talking and explaining what I was doing.”

As easy to use as recording a video with your mobile, Artec Leo comes with a screen, which means you can see if you’ve captured all the areas and fill in the ones that could have been left. 3D replication is generated in real time as you scan, so you can focus on the work, how in this case, scan while demonstrating PhD students on a ladder.

“With another scanner I could have done it, but it would have been harder, I would have had to pay more attention to everything. But with Leo and how well he tracks, I was able to divide my attention between class and quality data collection. It’s definitely the best tool for this job.”

Conklin says that being able to access the skull with a ladder made the data obtained much better, as he was able to scan both the back and top of the skull and from all angles. “I liked the end result a lot more,” he says. “My biggest concern was that it’s an irreplaceable piece of archaeology, and if anything had happened to him. I don’t even want to think about it.”

Thanks to this scan, in addition to having a 3D model of the museum star, many other companies and faculties can find educational and professional opportunities. In essence, what inspires the team is the ability to do something that was previously impossible.

“Especially now that everyone stays at home, you can work from home and do whatever you want from a 3D file, such as performing simulations or conducting research,” Conklin says.

“Supporting research that would not otherwise be possible is another reason why this is important, in addition to the fact that anyone, anywhere in the world can start researching from this copy.”

From measurements to research, from global accessibility to preservation, opportunities are limitless. “Even maybe for the CGI for the next Jurassic Park movie, or video games,” Conklin suggests. “I’m excited to think about it!”

“Just to see how history is done and preserved, to see how the world changes, how something that would have been destroyed over time or for any other reason can be preserved, time passes for all, but if we can digitize things, we can go back in time eternally.”

Today, what the home of the skull has been considering is using scanning to make a mold and then create its own copy on the Smithsonian, now that they have the exact measurements of the entire skull, something they had never had before. “I don’t think we could have done it without the 3D scan,” says Conklin, who is happy to fulfill his childhood dream of wearing the archaeologist’s hat for a day. “I’ll tell you what,” he adds. “If you build a replica of this dinosaur skull from my scanning data, I’ll bring my future grandchildren to see!”

“I would like to go a step further and see what we can do with the museum in terms of digitization and help them in the long run,” Cano stresses.