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How 3D printing is helping to change science for the better

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A look at how and why 3D printing is starting to catch on amongst the science community.

3D printed Neanderthal skulls - via Nature
3D printed Neanderthal skulls - via Nature

When it comes to 3D printers and science, the possibilities seem nearly endless — this week alone we've seen the technology used to print up everything from dinosaur bones to networks of blood vessels. A new piece in Nature explores some of the ways the tech is being used by researchers today (as well as how it might be used in the future), and why many scientists are so keen on it. The University of Zurich's Christoph Zollikofer, for instance, uses a combination of computer models and 3D printouts for his research on Neanderthals.

"It's like being a geneticist without a sequencer."

While the models are good for measurements, the physical nature of the printed bones allows Zollikofer more flexibility and a better view of how they relate to each other in the real world — among other things, he's used the printouts to re-enact a Neanderthal birth. "Anyone who thinks of themselves as an anthropologist needs the right computer graphics and a 3D printer," he says. "Otherwise it's like being a geneticist without a sequencer."