Access our virtual 3D models of skulls and teeth

Students of dentistry, veterinary science and biosciences now have access to rare and fragile skulls and teeth, thanks to a 3D scanning and printing initiative.

The project, led by Dr Rita Hardiman and together with Dr Lauren Salo, Dr Michiko Mirams, Mr Brendan Kehoe and Ms Trish Koh, has so far scanned over 70 skulls and teeth using CT and microCT, and has created 3D prints from the scans. Supported by a University of Melbourne Learning and Teaching Initiatives Grant, and with the help of Cultural Collections volunteer Ms Sabrina Sun, the project has a Sketchfab page with virtual 3D models. The page is widely accessible and has over 90 followers. The collection includes a thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) skull as well as Tasmanian Devil, kangaroo and possum skulls and teeth, among many others.

Previously, access to human and animal skull collections for education was limited. Samples are rare and fragile, risking damage from over-handling and there are access-equity issues due to the rarity of some specimens. A solution in the past was to display specimens, but not allow handling by students. Samples were also static: internal anatomy was inaccessible because to see it would entail destruction of the sample (eg. by sectioning). Dr. Hardiman’s team is creating virtual volumetric models which can be displayed on multiple e-platforms, and generate 3D-printable files. Realistic skulls can be printed at different scales, virtually sliced, and then printed, displaying features not otherwise visible. This enables enormous flexibility in learning and teaching. Printed models can be handled by students without risk of damage. Both model formats create opportunities to access rare, fragile biological samples in an innovative way, enhancing learning and understanding through novel media. Further innovation is developing in research applications, increasing available datasets for quantitative morphometric research.

Impact has also been made in animal welfare. The project replaces and reduces the need for authentic animal skulls, while maintaining the anatomical variation present in the population (not possible with mass-produced manufactured models). The project was successful in achieving a runner-up prize for Animal Welfare Excellence in 2018, when the project was in its infancy, and first prize in Animal Welfare Excellence in 2019.

As universities face and meet global challenges, the ability to provide students and researchers with authentic, valuable, and engaging experiences is very important. This project demonstrates that these experiences are possible, and can be very successful and beneficial, not only to students and researchers but also to valuable University biological collections and to animal welfare.