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Diplodocus head is 3D printed

This is what happens when a Jurassic dinosaur is introduced to twenty-first century technology.

The head of Dippy, the Museum's much-loved Diplodocus, has been 3D printed ahead of the specimen's UK tour.

The iconic dinosaur now has eight replica resin heads that can be used for education all over the country. You can also play with our digital 3D model of Dippy's skull.

Dippy's tour launches on 10 February, at Dorset County Museum. The public can visit for free and will also be able to learn more about the Jurassic Coast, which was designated a World Heritage site because of its rich history of palaeontology. Dippy will then go on to visit seven other venues in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland over the next three years.

Dippy's skull being laser scanned

Kate Burton, a 3D scanning assistant, laser scans Dippy's skull

Scanning the dinosaur

The head of the Diplodocus skeleton was scanned at the Museum using laser equipment bought in 2017.

The state-of-the-art scanner was first purchased so imaging teams could digitise every bone of a vast blue whale skeleton. Now that work on the whale is complete, the laser scanner can be put to use on other Museum specimens.

Laser scanners shine a beam of light at an object, which gets distorted as it passes over the surface. It can capture an object's exact size and shape, down to the smallest details, creating a high-resolution digital model.

The data from the scan can then be used by scientists and researchers - and 3D printers. 

Alex Ball, Head of Imaging and Analysis at the Museum, says, 'Laser scanning and 3D printing are very safe ways to create models of original specimens.

'The old way of making models of specimens was by producing a mould of the surface and then making a cast. For instance, Dippy is a plaster-of-Paris model of the original dinosaur that's in America.

'But moulding from original materials can be risky. If you get any material from the mould stuck anywhere on the surface you risk damage to the object, and you will potentially create an inaccurate replica.

'Laser scanning never touches the object so it eliminates that risk.'

A close-up of the printed skulls

The 3D printed skulls are exact replicas of Dippy and can be used for science and education

 

Touring the country

Five of the eight skulls will be used by the Real World Science partner institutions for education. One will remain in London for research and study, and two will be on tour with Dippy.

Visitors will be able to handle and examine the replicas, getting a closer look at Dippy. The skulls will also help blind and visually impaired audiences explore the dinosaur in detail.

The skulls are made of lightweight, durable resin and were printed in a single piece by Laser Prototypes Europe (LPE) in Belfast.

Each skull weighs around three kilogrammes, making it slightly lighter than the original cast, and is painted black to match Dippy.

Campbell Evans from LPE says, 'This process was perfect for recreating the complex, freeform shape of Dippy's skull, giving an exact copy of the scanned data.

'The project was a really interesting one for LPE, as much of our work is for electronic housings, covers, connectors and everyday engineering components. It's not every day that we see a dinosaur coming through the doors, let alone eight of them.'

Dippy on Tour is in partnership with the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Dippy on Tour

Dippy, the Museum's iconic Diplodocus cast, is going on a natural history adventure across the UK.

Explore Dippy's skull in 3D

Rotate, zoom in and explore the features of this popular dinosaur.