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Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History


Computerizing Bones

3-D scanner being used on Triceratops

Here a 3-D surface scanner is used on the Triceratops skull in the Dinosaur Hall to input the raw data describing the bones. Note the laser beam trace on the skull, showing data actually being gathered.

How do you use the computer to make dinosaur bones?

We have used 21st century technology to capture a 65 million-year-old animal! The original bones have been laser scanned in three dimensions to record them in the highest detail. If we want a bone that is exactly like the one we scanned, we send the data to a three-dimensional prototyping machine that outputs a hard copy, just like a printer will print a document for you exactly as it appears in your computer. But we can also manipulate these data to give us something bigger, smaller, or a mirror-image.

So what computer-generated replacements are in the new skeleton?

Both the skull and the left upper arm bone, the humerus, in the original skeleton were too small for the rest of the animal. We had the prototyping machines make bigger ones for us. The left shoulder blade and the left part of the hip bone had been sculpted for the original skeleton. So we scanned the right side original bones, mirror-imaged the data to give us lefthanded elements, and had the prototyping machine make them for us. We made molds of these prototypes and then cast each of them out of plaster and fiberglass just like the other replacements.

Triceratops in left and right lateral views

Triceratops in left and right lateral views, with skeletal elements from different individuals shown as a different color. Bones from at least a dozen Triceratops were used to make the original mount. This created mismatches in size we now were able to correct.

Triceratops at the Smithsonian  |  Conservation  |  Computerizing Bones  |  Digital Dinosaur  |  Home

Walk sequence of the virtual Triceratops
A walk cycle of the virtual Triceratops

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