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Tristan in the 3D Laboratory

Friday, 11. December 2015

Press release no. 242/2015

The head of the only Tyrannosaurus Rex in Europe is laser-sintered at TU Berlin

Scientists at the TU Berlin are printing an exact 3D replica of the T-Rex’s skull.

Berlin is waiting for “Tristan”. But this “Tristan” won’t move us to tears, he’ll give us goosebumps – even though he’s been dead for 66 million years. He’s about three-and-a-half metres tall, twelve metres long, and has teeth like sabres: “Tristan” is one of the world’s best-preserved skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the most fearsome of the dinosaurs, and the first and only one to have been displayed in Europe. On 17 December 2015 Tristan will be presented to the public by the Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum) in Berlin.

During assembly of the 157 bones, which arrived in Berlin in July, a problem emerged: the huge skull with the toothy jaws was too heavy. To avoid damaging the valuable skeleton, the museum sought help from the 3D lab at the Mathematics Department of TU Berlin. The lab has now been busy for weeks processing the 3D scans provided by the museum and printing them in 3D. For the exhibition of Tristan, taxidermists at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin will make molds of the laser sintered parts.

Densely packed with the help of mathematics: the individual bone segments of the skull must be arranged as efficiently as possible within the build area of the printer, since one print operation takes more than 30 hours

In the 3D lab you hear growling and bellowing sounds, and wonder whether “Tristan” has come to life. “Our 3D printing is exactly identical to the original – but we can’t yet create life,” laughs Prof. Dr. Hartmut Schwandt, mathematician and head of the 3D lab. “The printing is definitely noisy.” In the Museum für Naturkunde and in the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the 50 individual bones of the skull are being completely digitized using photogrammetry and CT scans. From this data, the 3D lab then creates the bone reproductions, piece by piece: the skull is too big to be produced in one piece. Later the skull will be assembled in such a way that the bones can still be removed individually for further examination. This is because “Tristan”, which was discovered in 2012 in Hell Creek, Montana/USA, and later bought by a private citizen and made available to science for three years, is to be closely examined by a team of researchers from academia, industry and society. Weight, mobility, speed, bite force, possible diseases, cause of death – the scientists will be using anatomical analyses, CT images, 3D scanning and computer modelling to develop a more detailed picture of this predatory dinosaur. The printed bone replicas will also be needed here.

Great excitement at one of the 3D printers in the TU’s 3D lab: Hartmut Schwandt, Joachim Weinhold, Ben Jastram and Samuel Jerichow (from left) check a T-Rex cranial bone.

“We’re not printing, though, we’re ‘laser sintering’”, points out Joachim Weinhold – research assistant at the 3D lab. “A powder is applied in layers than sintered together with pinpoint accuracy using a laser. The whole process takes place at temperatures of around 170° Celsius, and lasts up to 30 hours. The parts then have to cool for several hours so that they don’t become deformed. That means that, given the time pressure we’re under, it’s advisable to fit as many parts as possible into the build area for each process.” It is, he says, a major challenge to position the individual parts in the build area. With professional software, the scan data of the bones are arranged in the build area, and – if necessary – divided up beforehand into suitably-sized pieces (see graphic). “It’s like the advanced version of Tetris”, says Joachim Weinhold. But this definitely isn’t a game. What is being made here is high-quality components, designed to fascinate the public and the experts. The 3D lab of the TU Berlin has considerable experience in this area: “We collaborate with several museums and institutes, and are also involved in a cooperative project with the Deutsches Herzzentrum Berlin (German Heart Institute), funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF).” For now, however, the lab is working on “Tristan’s” skull at full speed, day and night, to make sure it’s ready by mid-December, when the world of the Cretaceous period will be recreated in this spectacular exhibition.


More information:

Stefanie Terp
Spokeswoman of TU Berlin
Phone 030/314-22919

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