Printing the Earth

3D printing is fast becoming one of the most exciting technical advances for geological science. The ability to incorporate this into research and industry could have a vast effect on the future of Earth science. For students, 3D prints of types of fossils or topographic models could support understanding without risking valuable resources. The X3D Project hopes to make The Smithsonian Institution’s irreplaceable collections available to anyone and everyone around the world.

Fragile, rare fossils could be printed for use in classrooms globally, whilst printing of crystal forms would visually aid teaching. Famous geological outcrops could even be printed, giving access to some of the most remote but important sites that may not be possible to visit in person. Furthermore, rather than assuming results via calculations, researchers could have a tangible copy of their models to simulate in the “real world”. Printing out internal scans of rocks can support oil and mining industries when looking for economic deposits. Mass-produced technology mounted with 3D printers could reduce the loss of profit by preventing disasters, remotely fixing pipe blockages without disturbing production. The future of geology, not only on our own planet, could soon be in our hands… literally.

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