2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 30-7
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-5:30 PM


PIETRAS, Jeffrey T.1, JOHNSTON, David1 and GREENE, Christopher M.2, (1)Department of Geological Sciences and Environmental Studies, Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY 13902, (2)Systems Science and Industrial Engineering, Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY 13902, jpietras@binghamton.edu

3D printing was invented over 30 years ago and, through recent advances, has proven itself as a salient technology. The process of additive manufacturing allows for the creation of objects possessing previously unachievable complexity. In addition, the flexibility of production materials has led to the expansion of the technology into virtually every scientific field including printing of complex machine parts, circuit boards, and functional organs to name a few. Not only has the versatility of printers evolved; the cost of 3D printers continues to decrease while their ease of use and setup improves. It is no longer necessary to run a costly lab with dedicated technicians to achieve desired results.

At the same time digital geospatial data capture, 3D modeling, and visualization have become commonplace with numerous commercial and open source software platforms that can operate on typical consumer hardware. In particular photogrammetry, a technique using overlapping photographs to generate a 3D model, allows geologists to create digital models of delicate fossils, cumbersome samples, or geologic structures found in the field. When this technology is combined with cameras mounted on low cost drones, the development of high resolution DEM’s (Digital Elevation Models) and printable scale models of inaccessible terrains is possible on the most meager of budgets.

As keepers of Earth’s historical record, geologists find themselves less in the business of making things and more in the business of recording them. However, it is not only a geologist’s job to document their findings, but also to explain them. 3D printing provides a useful tool for generating educational or research models. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a 3D model may be worth a hundred thousand. The combination of photogrammetry, 3D modeling, and printing can put rare fossils, difficult to visit locations, and complex structures into the hands of anyone anywhere.