Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

3D printers' next big leap

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

3D printers have been used to make guns, cars and bikinis - but Kiwi scientists have just taken the technology a leap further.

That being a toad's leap - a team at Massey University have succeeded in recreating a 3D cane toad skeleton.

Replicas of the skeleton, along with the tough cartilage from the head of a spiny dogfish, were rendered using consumer-level scanners, before being printed using a selective laser sintering 3D printer.

Dr Daniel Thomas, of Massey's Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, said the aim of the project was to make anatomy more accessible to students and teachers.

"Anatomy teaches us about the ecology and evolution of an animal and can give us crucial information for developing conservation strategies."

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

But it wasn't always possible for students to study original anatomy specimens - and this was where high-quality 3D printed models could help.

"Imagine a classroom in Silverdale being able to print a moa skeleton or a university class in America being able to examine a kakapo beak that was scanned here in New Zealand."

Dr Thomas said the Massey-based scanning system that was used was reasonably inexpensive for a school or university to buy.

"There is no maximum size limit for printing or scanning, as bones that are larger than the printing chamber can be printed in multiple pieces."

But he acknowledged anatomical models couldn't account for biological variation and there were aspects lost by moving away from dissection.

The skeleton has been featured in a new study published in The Journal of Anatomy.

- NZ Herald

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