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With a borrowed 3D printer, U of T prof prints dozens of skulls for students in his virtual class

With a borrowed 3D printer, U of T prof prints dozens of skulls for college students in his digital class

Dave Mazierski The vacation holidays focused on a non-seasonal task: printing 3D models of fox skulls with bat ears.

Mazierski, vertebrate paleontologist and associate professor of biomedical communication at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, teaches a scientific drawing class. The skulls were needed for his nearly 50 students to complete any of the exercises on the course.

Typically, rows of drawing stations are set up in one of the biology department’s laboratories so students can observe and sketch primate skulls.

“Like a skull sketch factory,” says Mazierski.

Since Mazierski was forcing online classes due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, he had to get creative as there wasn’t enough space to keep students safe and physically distant, and the primates’ skulls were too precious and fragile to be to borrow.

So Mazierski got approval to borrow the program’s 3D printer. He researched online repositories for 3D data for skulls and decided on the bat ear fox.

“It has interesting teeth,” he says, holding up a resin model of the skull. “It’s a little smaller than life, but it’s big enough for students to see the features they are supposed to understand and draw the various elements of the skull. The size and shape was easy to print and clean as a single object. “

He taps on the desk with the 3D printing.

“And they are long-lived.”

Associate Professor Dave Mazierski works in groups of nine says it took 22 hours to print the skulls (photos by Dave Mazierski)

Mazierski printed the models in his newly remodeled 3D printing studio, his daughter’s former bedroom.

“It took 22 hours to print them nine times each (the maximum the desktop 3D printer could produce) and another 20 minutes per skull to remove from the build platform and clean,” says Mazierski.

He then packed the models for each student in envelopes, along with grids and a stand that he had built from pine boards.

It took 20 minutes to remove and clean each skull from the build platform (photo by Dave Mazierski).

Many students collected their skulls in lockers in the biology department, but some supplies had to be shipped to students as far as British Columbia, Ireland and Pakistan.

Laboratory drawings are a standard part of life science studies. For example, in comparative anatomy courses, students are expected to create manuals in which to draw their observations.

“In vertebrate paleontology, you have to be able to pull a specimen in order to report it for publication,” says Mazierski.

Encouraging people to draw is sometimes a way to encourage them to learn in other ways.

“While you have to draw the line somewhere, a scientific drawing cannot be vague or ambivalent. If it is to be precise and convey information, all of these lines have to have meaning, ”says Mazierski. “The act of drawing forces you to understand.”