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Sci-Tech

Print a 200-million-year-old dinosaur at home

A doctoral student uses a 3D surface file of a Massospondylus dinosaur fossil to uncover more secrets, then makes it available for armchair paleontologists to study.

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The profile view of the Massospondylus skull after being scanned.

Kimberley Chapelle

Dinosaur fossils can be a biological puzzle, but technology like CT scans and 3D printing is helping scientists make new discoveries.

Kimberley Chapelle, a doctoral student at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, used the school's computed tomography (CT) facility to rebuild every bone in skull of a Massospondylus dinosaur so she could study the tiny features inside the cranium.

Her results from the CT scans, along with her findings, were published in a study (co-authored by Professor Jonah Choiniere) on Jan. 12 in the open-access science journal PeerJ.  

While the Massospondylus dinosaur has been the subject of scientific studies before, its skull has never before undergone an in-depth anatomical study.

The paper includes details regarding the appearance of the inner and middle ear and how they contacted each other; how the nerves connected different parts of the skull to the brain; and how the bones around the brain were not fully fused.

Not only are these findings exciting for scientists studying the Massospondylus dinosaur, you, too, can download a 3D surface file of the skull in your own home. 

"This means any researcher or member of the public can print their own Massospondylus skull at home," Chapelle told said in a statement