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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.

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