Starting to 3D print the mammoth

Photo: Dennis Wise
Photo: Dennis Wise
September 14, 2017 | Burke Museum

The Burke Museum is working with University of Washington (UW) students and faculty to push the boundaries of 3D printing technology and reconstruct a full-scale Columbian mammoth using a combination of real and 3D-printed fossils from the Burke collection.

Posted: September 18, 2017

The team, led by Meredith Rivin, Burke Museum paleontology collection manager, and Steven Weidner, affiliate UW mechanical engineering instructor, is referencing fossils from a Columbian mammoth discovered in Richland, Washington, to scan and digitize its bones.

“Since this mammoth is only 20% complete, we’re scanning bones that we have a left for and not a right,” said Meredith. “And if we don’t have a bone at all, we’re scanning bones from other mammoths and scaling them to fit.”

When we last checked in on the project, the team was scanning and printing out some smaller models of bones to test their technology and processes.

Over the summer of 2017, two UW mechanical engineering students, Banks Hall and Jack Kamel, spent the quarter building out crucial engineering aspects of this monumental project and sharing their work with visitors in the Burke’s Testing, Testing 1-2-3 exhibit. 

For Jack, the focus was on constructing a large format 3D printer that will print some of the larger mammoth bones. For Banks, the focus was on creating mounts for the mammoth so that the structure would stay in place.

“We have over 110 digital models, and we’ll start to assemble them into an actual mounting,” said Steven. “We’re experimenting with different engineering concepts and challenging our students to think about creative ways to engineer mounts to minimize their visual impact while providing the required structural integrity.”

As a result, the team was able to start printing some of the larger mammoth bones that have already been scanned, such as models of the femur and the display holders for the mammoth’s feet.

This newest chapter in the 3D mammoth printing project continues to get us closer to a full display of the mammoth in the New Burke Museum when it opens in 2019.

“I hope that eventually we’ll be able to scan a good portion of our collection and the things people want to see and be able to look at in the classroom,” said Meredith. “Just the 3D models you can look at in the computer are informative and helpful…we hope that those will be available for anyone in the community.”

And for the students who joined the project this quarter, it helped them see the amazing possibilities that 3D printing has to offer.

“I didn’t think I would be interested in 3D printing when I finished engineering school, but over the course of time I learned what I want to do with my degree,” said Jack. “I think 3D printing will be a big part of that now.”


Learn more about the 3D Mammoth project and see more from Vertebrate Paleontology.