Triceratops Go Digital With the Help of 3D Scanners

If you thought using a 3D printer was the epitome of cool, think again. One of the latest gadgets on the market, 3D scanners are making the impossible come to life, including creatures that no longer roam this earth.

There is little doubt that the CU Museum of Natural History’s claim to fame is its huge fossil skull of an ancient Triceratops that wandered the earth some 83 million year ago. Those not able to visit the museum at the CU Boulder Campus need not despair. Dinosaur-enthusiasts can now examine an interactive 3D scan of the museum’s Triceratops skull without leaving the comfort of their own home.  

“When you go to a family day, you’re going to see kids crowding around our Triceratops,” said Eberle, a professor in the Department of Geological Studies at the Boulder campus. “I think it’s important, both from an education perspective and for its research potential.”

The 3D scan is the handiwork of the students who took part in Boulder’s first-ever course on technological breakthroughs that can change how we interact with the past. The students collected scans that recorded every detail of the skull with a special 3D scanning device. The shots were then fused to create an exact 3D copy of the original object, which can be rotated and zoomed in and out on your laptop. 

“These new technologies can help us to better share information and data between researchers, but also develop materials for educating the public,” said Carlton Shield Chief Gover, a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology.

William Taylor, who leads the museum’s Archaeozoology Lab says that digitizing the museum’s collections is definitely a step in the right direction, as many of the bones are extremely fragile. “It’s become an ethical obligation to fully digitize these specimens and share them with the world,” he said. “In our museum, we’re taking care of a huge amount of Colorado’s past.”

The museum’s impressive Triceratops skull was discovered way back in 1891 near the town of Lance Creek in Wyoming. It was displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. until the late 1970s when it was loaned to CU Boulder.


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