Tuesday 26 November 2013

3D Fossil finder visits BGS!

A few days ago, the overall winner of our “Hunt the 3D Fossil” Competition visited BGS in Keyworth for a VIP tour. Eleven year old Phoebe found a 3D printed crinoid in amongst the ichthyosaurs at the Yorkshire Museum, where she and her family are regular visitors.

This is the crinoid we 3D printed and which Phoebe spotted in the museum
The first part of the day was a chance to see the workings of the project, and Phoebe helped to make a laser scan of a fossil fish, and took photographs using the tilting stage which we then turned into an anaglyph for her. Before we left for lunch, we started the 3D printer to make a trilobite, one of her favourite kinds of fossil!

After lunch we began a tour of BGS – being a large site, we had a lot to fit into quite a short space of time. Phoebe enjoys collecting “real” fossils as well, so first we stopped off at our records store, where she was able to see the registers which hold all the information on our specimens, and how important it is to keep these kind of records for any size collection.

Examining one of the registers in the records section
 Next we headed to the core store to see some of the 600km of core samples that we store there, and to see how we are able to move racking that weighs nearly 800 tons (about the same as a high-speed passenger train!) with just one press of a button.

Part of one of the three core stores at BGS Keyworth

This left the museum collections to see. With a quarter of a million specimens there wasn't going to be time to see everything, so Louise and Paul (who look after the collections) had selected out some stunning specimens for us to look at. Phoebe liked them all, but we particularly liked looking at:
  • Dinosaur bones - unfortunately we didn't have her favourite Parasaurolophus , as it is a North American genus, but there were bones of Iguanodon and Megalosaurus to be seen
  • Ichthyosaur, plesiosaur and a pterosaur specimen from Lyme Regis, as well as a shark collected by none other than Mary Anning
  • Clypeus ploti, a sea urchin, or if you prefer, a “poundstone” or “Chedworth bun”
  • Calymene blumenbachii, the famous “Dudley locust” trilobite
  • Many, many ammonites, including Psiloceras from the Somerset coast, still with traces of the original shell present.

To finish the day, Bruce Napier took us on a virtual “flight” above (and below) the UK using the 3D visualisation suite. The system is not just limited to this planet either. We also spent an enthralling few minutes exploring the surface of Mars!

There was just time to visit the shop, where Phoebe was able to grow her own fossil collection a little bit more. We are glad that everyone had a fun day, and the family are already planning more visits to fossil localities and museums in the UK!
Simon Harris

3D Fossil Competition – National Winners Draw

On Monday 23rd September, the drawer was held for the two national winners to enjoy a VIP tour round the National Geological Repository at the BGS Headquarters at Keyworth, Nottingham. The two winning tickets were picked at random from the hard hat by Jayne and Jo, two of the original project team.

Jayne and Jo pick the National Competition Winners from the hard hat

The national winners were Phoebe, who won the Yorkshire Museum competition, and Callum, who won the Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales competition. Phoebe also won the iPad mini preloaded with a 3D fossil collection.

Congratulations to you both!

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Accessing historic geological texts through on-line archives

Sometimes when photographing a fossil it helps to learn a little more about the specimen before pressing the shutter. Fortunately at British Geological Survey we are blessed with an excellent library (both traditional and electronic!), but we have found that there are other options if you are not so fortunate:

Google, and other web searches are usually good, but one needs to be careful about the accuracy of the data that comes up. Since we are dealing with type fossils, some of which were first described nearly two hundred years ago, it makes sense to consult the original description. Many of these books and journals have now gone out of copyright or have been intentionally put into the public domain by their rights owners.

So here then, is a list of the best resources we have found so far for our internet researches:

•                      Google books (http://books.google.co.uk/)
•                      The Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org/)
•                      Palaeontology back-issues (http://www.palass.org/modules.php?name=backissues)
•                      Biodiversity Heritage Library (http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/)
•                      Worldcat (http://www.worldcat.org/) – also drives the search engine for the NERC library service (http://nerc.worldcat.org/)
•                      Open Library (http://openlibrary.org/)
•                      Forgotten Books (http://www.forgottenbooks.org/)
•                      Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/)
•                      Many geological societies and other organisations also manage their own digital archives, for example, the Geological Curators Group (http://www.geocurator.org/) makes back issues of it’s journal available on their website
•                      The Geological Society has a Virtual Library section on their website

•                      Amazon.co.uk and Apple iBookstore – less good for freely accessible information, but it is very often possible to buy an e-book version or even a reprint of the text you are after!

Screenshot of a page from “Catalogue of the fossil sponges in the Geological Department of the British Museum” on Biodiversity Heritage Library. Some of the specimens shown on this plate are type specimens and have been photographed as part of the JISC GB/3D Fossils Online Project
With a bit of searching and good luck, perhaps you will be able to find the historic titles you are searching for. The only danger is getting carried away in the many virtual shelves of books! Remember if you are not able to find the text you are after in digital form, you should try your local library who will be able to help you locate the nearest copy to you.

Let us know through the comments if there are any sources you use which you think we have missed.


Simon Harris

3D Fossils at UCL Festival of Geology

Last weekend the 3D Fossils team joined a number of geologists from different institutions around the country to attend the Festival of Geology at the UCL (University College, London). The event takes place each year, giving the public the occasion to discover more about geology and its disciplines, and of course, fossils!!

We were in the children's discovery area, along with the NHM, Bristol University and RockWatch. We were busy showing enthusiastic children (and even more enthusiastic parents) the potential of 3D fossils online.

3D printed fossils captured the attention of both children and adults. Anaglyphs were also popular and children were amused trying to touch the 3D fossils they were seeing with the glasses; whereas the most curious were exploring the 3D fossils from different sides on the iPad screens.

Dr Michela Contessi showing fossil cards and anaglyphs

It was great to see so many people were interested in fossils and geology. Many were pleasantly surprised to learn how much they can now discover about UK  fossils collections online. But remember, also visit  your local museum and compare our 3D models with the real thing!

Monday 4 November 2013

3D Fossils at Science Uncovered at The Natural History Museum

On the last Friday in September, two members of the 3D fossils team boarded a train from Nottingham station to attend the Science Uncovered event as part of European Researchers Night 2013.

We were to be demonstrating in the imaging zone, alongside pieces of exotic equipment such as a table-top electron microscope. After solving a few minor problems during setting up (using the time-honoured method of “gaffer tape and ingenuity”....) we had the 3d printer running and making 3d fossils.

Our first “customers” were adults who had brought  their children to the museum (or was it the children who had brought their parents?!). Many had been fossil hunting and were excited to learn of the existence of our database, where they could download models to compare with their own finds, to help in identifying them.

3D fossils in the spotlight - demonstrating to an onlooker how a print is made up

It was also good to speak to a number of school teachers who had recently bought a 3d printer and were looking for things to fabricate with it. We were able to share our experiences of acquiring models using the laser scanner, or designing them in 3D CAD, and finally using the printer to output that work.

Our anaglyphs and 3d prints proved a big hit with young and old alike, and we distributed plenty of fossil cards and leaflets throughout the evening. One of the trickiest parts of the evening was working in a darkened room, with a black floor, black walls and a black tablecloth – thank goodness that we were printing the models in white plastic!

Viewing anaglyphs on the iPad screen made it easy for everyone to have a go

All in all, it was great to see so many people attending the evening and provided us with a brilliant opportunity to explain our work to people from a very wide range of backgrounds, and how modern technologies are invaluable in helping us achieve this. 

A late Victorian interpretation of "3D Fossils"!
Simon Harris

Conservator/JISC Project Photographer

Thursday 31 October 2013

GB3D type fossils go to Italy....

The 3D Fossil team was in Bologna (Italy) over the second weekend in October  for the "GeoDay" event organized by the Alma Mater Studiorum University. This is the very place where the word geology, or rather “geologia”, was coined in 1603 by Ulisse Aldrovandi !

It was a busy 2-day event showing people the reasons for studying geology and what exactly a geologist does. The 3D Fossils display was hosted in the Museo Geologico Giovanni Capellini (http://www.museocapellini.it/), home of one the Diplodocus carnegii skeleton copies, like the one you can see at the National History Museum in London. 

Technician Dr Michela Contessi at the 3D-Fossils stand in the Museo Geologico Giovanni Capellini, 
just before the doors opened. 

We demonstrated the potential of the UK fossil types online database and we illustrated the power of the iPad  for interacting with 3D models. We demonstrated 3D model acquisition with the NextEngine laser scanner and we exhibited a 3D printer - a  MakerBot Replicator 2X - printing fossils in red ABS plastic.

FS4053, “horny trilobite” from the palaeontological collection at Wollaton Hall (Nottingham), 
3D printed with red ABS plastic. 
Visitors were enthusiastic in their assessment of the use of new technologies in museum palaeontological collections and in particular how they helped to make collections more accessible to both the general public and researchers from all around the world! 

3D printer in action, printig red plastic fossils
Dr Michela Contessi

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Guest Blog - Comparing some 3D printers with GB3D fossils

3D Printing Fossils from the GB3D Type Fossils Online Database

Guest Blog by Cris Fowers, www.whiteclouds.com

The GB3D Type Fossils Online project perfectly demonstrates the potential of 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies that will benefit professionals, professors, students, and fossil enthusiasts. The huge advantage to having a database of downloadable 3D fossils is that now anyone from anywhere in the world can not only view a high definition image, but also 3D print a fossil replica. And the fossil can be downloaded and printed by as many people who want it.

The ability to study a physical object that you can hold, touch, and turn in your hands far surpasses looking at an image alone. It becomes a tangible study aid.

If you can, imagine a classroom where students have instant access to thousands of fossils that are stored in an archive on the other side of the world. This scenario can be applied to many sciences, not just paleontology. I see this as the beginning to more databases of downloadable objects in the future that will further education and research.      

I was curious to see how the downloaded files would print. In our lab here at WhiteClouds, I printed the apoderoceras mutatum (Simpson) fossil (Fossil specimen: BGS GSM26406 – Holotype) on four different 3D printers, using four different materials, to see how the models compared. I used the MakerBot Replicator 2, Stratasys Mojo, ZPrinter 650, and the ProJet 3500 HDMax. Here are the results of each print:

MakerBot Replicator 2
Technology: Fused Filament Fabrication
Material: PLA (natural color)

Overall, the print turned out well with fairly good detail. I printed the model with a raft and supports which were necessary to print this fossil. A downside to using the MakerBot is the support material was a little difficult to remove and left some marks on the back of the fossil. However, the MakerBot’s model provides an overall good representation of the fossil.

I would recommend printing in a non-transparent color. The transparency of the natural colored filament makes it more difficult to see the fine details in the fossil. It also allows you to see the inside fill pattern, especially under bright lights. 

Stratasys Mojo
Technology: Fused Filament Fabrication
Material: ABS

The Stratasys Mojo also uses fused filament fabrication technology but prints with ABS filament. The detail of the Mojo’s model was slightly better than that of the MakerBot’s. That might be attributed to the opaque material. The big advantage to printing a fossil on a commercial ABS printer, like the Mojo, Fortus, or UPrint, is the support material is soluble. This is beneficial because the model won’t have any defects caused by removing the support material.

I printed the fossil in standard white and it printed nicely.  

ZPrinter 650
Technology: Binder Jetting
Material: Sandstone-like (multi-color)

The ZPrinter 650 prints in a material that feels like a smooth sandstone and it prints in full-color. The finished product is almost fossil-like. This, in my opinion, produced the most accurate model. The colors matched almost perfectly with the image of the original fossil and the detail is amazing. Because of how the binder jetting technology works, defects because of the support material isn’t an issue.

The one drawback to fossils printed with the ZPrinter is they are more fragile. If you were to drop the model on a hard surface, there’s a good chance it will break or chip.   

ProJet 3500 HDMax
Technology: Multi-jet Modelling
Material: UV-Cured Resin

I also printed the fossil on a ProJet 3500 HDMax by 3D Systems. Of the four printers I used, this one has the highest resolution. The detail is best on this model; you are able to see even the fine cracks in the fossil. However, because of the transparency of the material, it is harder to see the detail in the fossil.

The support material on the ProJet melts away, leaving the surface touching the support material undamaged.

Overall, I was very happy with the results on all of the printers. These fossils are a treasure, and through modern technologies, can be enjoyed by people around the globe. 

Cris Fowers

Friday 13 September 2013

Competition winners !

The results of the competition are in, and here is the list of the regional winners. 

If you can find your name on this list then you have won a prize provided by your local museum. If we have put an asterisk next to your name, we can’t get hold of you – please contact the museum where you entered and they will sort you out!

New Walk Museum, Leicester
Freddie (surname unknown)    
Marcus Weston               
Charlie Plews    
Harjot Singh
Isla Clifford
Wollaton Hall, Nottingham
Tia Askem
Josh Brookes
Aaron Brown
Matt Robinson
Joshua Hemsley
The Yorkshire Museum
Imogen Crabtree
Phoebe Schuster
Zoe Baker
Dongmei Liang
Grosvenor Museum, Chester
Emi Mayman
Keisha (Second name unknown)
Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent
Daniel Tatham
Ben Walters
Katie Morris
Daniel James Dick
Maddison Martin
Hancock Museum, Newcastle
Alistair Potts
Abigall Day
Emma Mulvaney
Caitlin Ashley
Alex Winter
Buxton Museum & Art Gallery
Chloe Needham
Katie Bradd
Daniel Williams
George Fox
Autumn Nixon
RAMM Exeter
Ayla-May Lake
Jazmin Evans
James Cooke
Lola Morgans
Zachary Rees
Amgueddfa Cymru : National Museum Wales
Geoff Smith
Callum Buckley
Dejan Kukic
Ryan Billings-Wakerry
Rotunda Museum Scarborough
Benjamin Vezlock
Lucy Lanfear
Daniel Rose
Tyler Jones
Amy Cooper
Dorset County Museum
Rachel Stevens
Declan Wright
Benjamin Webb
Samuel Keaton
Zak Millward
Warwickshire Museum
Alwen Price
Adam Price
Thomas Varnish
Lloyd Hughes
Dinosaur Isle, Sandown
Chris Mumby
Lauryn Lewis
James Watson
Russel Espino
Miss K Crang
British Geological Survey
London Information Office
Hazel Williams
Paul Varotsis
Ronni Adams
Clive Richardson
Eduard Tiron
Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge
Thomas Luck
Chris Wayland
Christopher Norman
Rufus Skelton
Greta Norman
Perth Museum
Jennifer McCafferty
Jasmine Hossack
Ryan McCullie
Jamie Allan
Jacqui Caldwell
Leeds Museum
Debby Gallagher

Once we have made contact with the winners and verified that they are valid entries, we will proceed to the main prize draw. This is likely to take just over a week.

Thursday 5 September 2013

The Competition at Dinosaur Isle

Guest blog from Alex Peaker of Dinosaur Isle...

One of the museums participating in the 3D printed fossil competition is Dinosaur Isle.

At Dinosaur Isle there is a slightly different competition running, to try and spot which is the real claw of the dinosaur Neovenator, and which is the claw that has been made by the British Geological Survey using a 3D printer. They have taken what was originally a white plastic cast, and painted it to match the colours of the real fossil. 

The real fossil and the cast have been put together and marked A and B and all you have to do is recognise which is which.

In the first week of the competition Dinosaur Isle has had over two hundred entries to the competition, and on the 12th September 5 winners will be drawn from those who got the right answer. Up for grabs for each winner is a family ticket to join onto one of the museums fossil walks, and also to be entered into the national draw.

You don’t have to visit the museum to enter the competition, just visit the website http://www.dinosaurisle.com and have a go.

Alex Peaker

Thursday 22 August 2013

Starts 12:00 today, Thursday 22nd August – the Nationwide Treasure Hunt for 3D-printed fossils

Can you find the 3D-printed fossils?

The Nationwide Treasure Hunt for 3D-printed fossils starts today at 12:00 and continues for 3 weeks. The following organisations are participating in the Competition. Before you go along, please check their websites carefully for opening hours and any bank holiday closing. The Geological Survey Sites, for example,  are closed at weekends and bank holidays.

The Geological Walk, British Geological Survey, Environmental Centre
Nicker Hill, Keyworth, Nottingham, NG12 5GG
British Geological Survey Information Office, Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD
Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge
Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EQ
National Museum of Wales Amgueddfa Cymru, National Museum Cardiff
Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Terrace Road, Buxton
Derbyshire, SK17 6DA
Dorset County Museum, High West Street, Dorchester
Dorset, DT1 1XA
Great North Museum : Hancock, Barras Bridge, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Queen Street,
Exeter, Devon, EX4 3RX
Nottingham Natural History Museum, Wollaton Hall
Nottingham, NG8 2AE
Warwickshire Museum, Market Hall
Warwick, CV34 4SA
Scarborough Museums Trust, Woodend , The Crescent
Scarborough, YO11 2PW
York Museums Trust, Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens
York, YO1 7FR
Dinosaur Isle, Culver Parade, Sandown
Isle of Wight, PO36 8QA
Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Bethesda Street, City Centre
Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, ST1 3DW
Perth Museum, 78 George Street
Perth, PH1 5LB
Leeds City Museum,  Millenium Square,
Leeds, LS2 8BH
Grosvenor Museum, 27 Grosvenor Street,
Chester, CH1 2DD
New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, 53 New Walk
Leicester, LE1 7EA

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Nationwide Treasure Hunt starts 12:00 noon Thursday 22nd August

To mark the public launch of the GB/3D type fossils online project and the world’s first virtual fossil collection, we are organising a nationwide treasure hunt at 18 museums and geological displays across Britain. The full list of participating organisations will be published tomorrow. The competition starts at 12:00 on Thursday 22nd August and finishes when the museums close on Thursday 12th September.

Can you find the 3d printed fossil in the museum display?

The object is simply to find the 3D printed fossil hidden somewhere amongst the museum displays and record its position on the entry form.   

Five winning entry forms will be selected at random at each museum from correctly completed entry forms. Winners will be contacted by email and arrangements made for them to attend a VIP museum tour, or something similar. Each winner aged under 18 may bring a parent or guardian.   

Two national winners will be selected from the individual museum winners and contacted by email. Arrangements will be made for them to attend a VIP collections tour at BGS Keyworth. One overall winner will also receive a tablet computer pre-loaded with a collection of virtual fossils



1.            Entry to the Competition is conditional upon and confirms acceptance of these Rules.
2.            Entry to the Competition may only be made in accordance with the instructions printed on the entry form and any additional information supplied by staff at the Competition information desk.
3.            Individual entrants may only make one entry per museum and this must be on an official entry form supplied by the museum. Museum staff and their families, and employees of the British Geological Survey and their families may not enter. The completed entry form must be handed to museum staff at the point where it was collected.
4.            The Competition starts at 12:00 noon on Thursday 22nd August 2013 and closes at museum closing time on Thursday 12th September 2013.
5.            The aim of the Competition is to find the 3d printed fossil within the museum displays and to record its location on the entry form.
6.            Five winning entry forms will be selected at random at each museum from correctly completed entry forms. Winners will be contacted by email and arrangements made for them to attend a VIP museum tour, or something similar. Each winner aged under 18 may bring a parent or guardian.
7.            Two national winners will be selected from the individual museum winners and contacted by email. Arrangements will be made for them to attend a VIP collections tour at BGS Keyworth. One overall winner will also receive a tablet computer pre-loaded with a collection of virtual fossils.
8.            Names of winners and results of the Competition will be published on the Project Blog.
9.            Prizes are not transferable and no cash alternative to prizes will be offered.
10.          If a winner is unable to take up a prize for any reason or in the event that a winner cannot be contacted within a reasonable period, the organisers reserve the right to award the prize to an alternative winner, in which case the first winner chosen will not be eligible for any share of the prize whatsoever.
11.          Each winner must co-operate with the organiser’s photographers and staff to publicise the win as the organisers deem appropriate.
12.          The organisers reserve the right to change the competition rules or to void the competition at any time and for any appropriate reason. In the event of an error of any nature howsoever caused and whether obvious or otherwise which affects the Competition in any way, the organiser reserves the right to administer the Competition as though the error had not occurred.
13.          No correspondence can be entered into on any matters arising from the Competition. 
14.          Failure to comply with any of these rules may result in the disqualification of the entry. The organisers reserve the right to disqualify any entry at their absolute discretion. The organisers’ decisions are final in all matters concerning the Competition.

The GB/3D Type Fossils Online Project

21st August 2013