Bringing Prehistoric Trilobite Fossils to Life with 3D Printing
Dr. Gianpaolo Di Silvestro is the passionate paleontologist and CEO behind Italian company, Trilobite Design Italia. He is a specialist in trilobites, a fossil group of extinct marine arthropods, and his company sells original and model replicas of these fascinating creatures to collectors, institutions and museums around the world.
While working as an assistant curator in various museums, Dr. Di Silvestro noticed that many museums provided mostly theoretical knowledge for their visitors; there were few opportunities for visitors to learn about fossils while actually looking at a tangible model, holding it in their hands and letting the creature come to life. Although most museums do have fossil casts and models, these are very expensive and time-consuming to make, requiring months of sculpting for each model. Dr. Di Silvestro longed to bring the Paleozoic era to life for museum-goers everywhere, and after a chance meeting with Italian architect and 3D designer Francesco Baldassare, they decided to turn this dream into reality. 3D Printing was the perfect solution to Gianpaolo’s problem from the start. It considerably reduced the production time needed to create a hand-sculpted fossil model, and reconstructing the fossils in 3D could be done from anywhere – in fact, Gianpaolo and Francesco explored many of Trieste’s historical coffee bars while digitally modeling the fossils. The process of 3D Printing also allowed them flexibility; usually the hard exoskeleton was the only part that remained of a trilobite, so they needed to reconstruct soft tissues and missing parts, usually with a trial-and-error process until they reached the most accurate print possible.
Many 3D printing services rejected the fossils Dr. Di Silvestro sent them due to the complexity of the 3D models – trilobites have a lot of legs! But our Materialise Italy office was up to the challenge and the first prints turned out perfectly. As Dr. Di Silvestro said of his experience, “We are projecting ancient creatures that lived 430 million years ago, so it isn’t easy to know exactly how they’ll turn out. But it worked – even the first print was excellent! With an easy download process and professional response to all our requests, Materialise helped us to develop our ideas into high-quality images and scale them for a perfect product print.” The first complete and painted trilobite realized by Trilobite Design Italia is now housed at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, and the projects are streaming in, with prints of bacteria and viruses in the works for schools to use during lessons, a project for a new beehive, as well as the recently completed 3D prints of a heteromorph ammonite. In future, Dr. Di Silvestro also hopes to collaborate with museums to develop special tactile exhibitions designed for the blind. We wish him all the best with his endeavors and hope he keeps improving the educational experience of museum visitors around the world!
Interested in applying 3D Printing to your project or dream? Get in touch!
All images are courtesy of Trilobite Design Italia