How A 3-D Printer Is Helping Preserve A Saber-Tooth Salmon

 A sabertooth salmon, as depicted by artist Ray Troll. The mural is part of the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. credit: University of Oregon.A sabertooth salmon, as depicted by artist Ray Troll. The mural is part of the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. | credit: University of Oregon.
A sabertooth salmon, as depicted by artist Ray Troll. The mural is part of the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. credit: University of Oregon.
A sabertooth salmon, as depicted by artist Ray Troll. The mural is part of the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. | credit: University of Oregon.

Amelia Templeton, Earth Fix

For years, museum conservators and paleontologists have yearned for a way to duplicate fragile fossils without damaging them. Now scientists with the University of Oregon say they have found a way to do just that, with the help of a relatively inexpensive 3-D printer.

They’ve starting by duplicating the skull of a particularly important fossil in their collection: a giant saber-toothed salmon fossil discovered near Madras, Ore.

Nick Famoso, a PhD student at the university, is helping with the replication process. He says saber-toothed salmon, Oncorhynchus Rastrosus, swam the oceans and rivers of the Northwest 5 to 7 million years ago. They were ancestors of sockeye salmon.

“Put a big old gnarly tooth in the front jaw. Make it a lot bigger. That’s a saber-tooth salmon,“ he says.

The salmon grew to be 6- to 12-feet long, on a vegetarian diet of plankton and filter food. The tooth, which grew as long as a human thumb, developed on spawning males.

Famoso says the university holds what’s known as a “type specimen” of Oncorhynchus: a particularly well-preserved example that was used to describe the species. The university wanted to make the fossil the centerpiece of a salmon evolution exhibit at its Museum of Cultural and Natural History. But the Oncorhynchus fossil was too fragile and too scientifically valuable to risk casting — using the traditional method of pouring a latex mold around the fossil.

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The saber-toothed salmon fossil.

Famoso says delicate fossils of fish and bird skeletons can shatter and be permanently lost during the process of removing the mold.

“Generally when you do that we use latex and we make molds, and we pull the mold and we make a cast out of that mold. That’s great but not all fossils can be molded and cast. This is where the 3-D printing comes in and it’s really exciting.”

Instead, the salmon fossil was given a CT scan, creating a detailed 3-D image. Now the university’s science librarian, Dean Walton, is feeding that image file into a 3-D printer. The printer’s software slices the image into a series of thin layers that are laid down with a plastic called polylactic acid.

“In some ways, you can think of this as a glorified glue-gun that’s melting and squirting out a little line of plastic,” he says.

Walton says the printer, which cost a little over $2,000, can print objects the size of a milk carton and has a resolution down to a tenth of a millimeter. He says University of Oregon students and faculty can use the printer for free, but should be warned it’s a slow process. Printing the first piece of the salmon fossil took 72 hours.

The first piece of the fossil’s printed plastic replica.

Walton is printing several more segments of the fossil this month. When it is complete, Famoso will use the plastic replica to make a traditional cast model for display. He hopes the new replication technology will make it easier for scientists to share copies of fossils for research and public display without putting the originals at risk. He says Badlands National Park in South Dakota is also experimenting with the technique. Paleontologists at the University of Washington are using a 3-D printer to make custom cradles to securely hold delicate fossils in place.

The replica of the saber-toothed salmon fossil will go on display at University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History this year.

University of Oregon’s 2013 Native American art show


1 native american art - Mecca

October 9, 2013






Current and former UO students from tribes throughout Oregon are showing their artwork in the 2013 Native American Art Show, on display through the month of October at the Many Nations Longhouse, 1630 Columbia St.

A public reception to meet the artists will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

Shayleen Macy, a Wasco member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is a current UO student working on a bachelor of fine arts degree in printmaking. In addition to her formal art education, she continues to practice traditional/tribal arts and, since coming to the UO, has taken up an interest in business and Indian languages.

Through her art, Macy explores identity as a contemporary Indian woman facing social, environmental and cultural issues. She also incorporates traditional Wasco stories into some of her pieces, such as “The Elk, the Hunter, and His Greedy Father,” and “Coyote Frees the Fish.” Her art sometimes evokes the stories’ traditional meanings and at other times, she uses the story as a metaphor for contemporary issues.

In “Mecca” (shown above), Macy explores the place on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation on the Deschutes River where she grew up and lived with her grandparents and extended family.

“The piece is a contemporary version of a traditional native art form of bead applique on hand-stitched buckskin purses, which women carry at gatherings as a part of our traditional regalia,” she says.

Beyond college, Macy plans to pursue a career as an advocate for the arts and languages of the Warm Springs Tribes, as well as continue a relationship with the community that is based on education and service.

“I hope to be able to be involved with opportunities within my community that promote the languages and arts,” she says.

Macy and other artists will be at the reception for the 2013 Native American Art Show, at the Many Nations Longhouse.

– from the Office of Equity and Inclusion