Creating Digital 3-Dimensional Fossils

Jen here –

Maggie and I have been working with an undergraduate student, Audrey, to come up with a project for her last semester at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Audrey is a geology major and has an additional concentration in early childhood education. I’ve had a project that I’ve been absolutely dying to get started and I thought, what a perfect candidate for this endeavor.

Last year when we were packing up the department collection, I found these really beautiful large foraminifera models. Coincidentally, Audrey actually helped us pack these specimens up. As we know from reading Adriane’s research section (here), foraminifera are microfossils. We use microscopes to see these very small creatures. Microscopes are difficult to use in a classroom setting because even if you set them up in focus, it is very easy for someone to accidentally put it out of focus or move the slide. This makes it difficult for each student to have the same experience.

Setting up one of our enlarged Foraminifera models to scan with our NextEngine 3D laser scanner.
By having gigantic models, we can discuss details or shapes of these forams without having to look under a microscope. So, the project idea is to use our 3D laser scanner to create digital 3D models of these super big foraminifera models. Audrey will develop lesson plans that will incorporate these specimens into them. The ultimate goal will be to make the object files that contain the digital fossils and accompanying lesson plans available for teachers to download for free online.

We have done a few test scans and to see the exact specifications we should use for the models. In order to get the details of the specimens you have to rotate the model so that the areas where it’s being held on the stand can also be scanned. You can then combine the different angles into one model. The digital fossil can then be manipulated and moved around in 3D space. Now that the semester is wrapping up we will begin to scan these models more often so Audrey’s project can take off running next semester.

4 thoughts on “Creating Digital 3-Dimensional Fossils

  1. Silence March 24, 2020 / 9:54 am

    Hello! I am a high school teacher. I also plan to have a course with some classes of microfossils. I am looking for a good method to create a bid model of microfossils. Have you successfully created models of some microfossils?

    • jenebauer March 24, 2020 / 11:05 am

      Hi, there – Yes, we have quite a few. You can find them all here: and you can download object files to 3D print if you want! They are not scaled appropriately so may be bizarre sizes but we did not have any trouble printing them on a Makerbot. Please feel free to email me if you need more info: bauerjen @ Best wishes, Jen

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