Paleontologists from Universidad de Chile, Smithsonian staff and 3D Systems VP & Chief Entrepreneur Officer Ping Fu stand below the 3D print of a fossil whale from Cerro Ballena, now in the Q?rius Theatre at NMNH. (Photo: NMNH Photography).
Earlier this summer, we completed the installation of a unique addition to the collection in Q?rius. With help from 3D Systems, we mounted a 3D print of one of the most complete fossil whale skeletons excavated from Cerro Ballena. This 3D print – the largest of its kind in the world – was generated from a detailed laser surface scan of the original skeleton (Museo Paleontologico Caldera specimen number 677), as it was found at Cerro Ballena during road expansion of the adjacent Pan-American Highway in 2011.
This 3D print was built and donated to NMNH by 3D Systems, which constructed the print out of 40 smaller tiles, that were then assembled and painted (see video above). Our work at Cerro Ballena has demonstrated that rapid, large-scale 3D documentation provided fundamental information for our team to conclude that the marine animals preserved in four levels at Cerro Ballena were most likely killed by repeated harmful algal blooms that poisoned them repeatedly about 6-9 million years ago.
Holly Little and NDP, with 3D prints of the same specimen in different sizes. (Photo: Sarah Sulick)
These findings are freely available to the public, anywhere in the world, in a digital form. With a 3D printer, anyone can make their very own 3D print of this particular specimen, which shows how 3D documentation can combine research, collections preservation, and outreach all at the same time. Watch the video below, featured in Eric Larson's Mashable story, to see what we mean:
And lastly: stay tuned, because we hope to post complete the full set of 3D models of the Cerro Ballena baleen whales in the next few months...and there's more to share in the coming year.