Marshall University Anthropologist Uses 3-D Printer to Teach Human Evolution



Biological Anthropologist Paul Constantino has decided that a 3-Dimensional printer is the next step in teaching his students about human evolution.

Constantino and the department purchased the high tech 3-D printer to help with teaching about specimens that are so old they wouldn’t usually be able to touch them. Using the printer he’s able to give his students in human anatomy courses a chance to handle replicas of specimens they are studying. The machine is so new to the department they’re not sure what all they can do with it. Constantino said it just makes sense as the next step in learning for students.

“A lot of times you have 3-dimensional data on your computer and you can see it on your computer, but it’s still really hard to visualize how shapes change and two skulls for instance, how these two species may differentiate from each other, so we can actually print them off here and hold them in our hands and it’s much more intuitive for us not only as researchers, but for students to see the differences,” Constantino said.

The printer creates a model that fits the exact specifications of whatever is inputted into the system. Constantino said it’s a process that doesn’t take long and can make the classroom experience that much easier for students to see parts of the anatomy. He says the printer prints off about 20 millimeters per hour, so for a skull it takes 2-3 hours. From there they have to blow off excess powder and then use an epoxy to harden the object and make sure it’s durable. All told it takes 3-4 hours.

The anthropologist sees no limit to how the technology could be used all over campus, such as others in the science fields, but also others throughout the university, for a hands-on experience.

“We feel like there are teachers all over the university that could potentially benefit from it, we envision people that work on the molecular scale being able to print off scaled up versions of their molecules and show them to their students, so rather than trying to picture what it looks like in their head they can actually see in their hands a model of what this molecule might look like,” Constantino said.

He said professors will quickly see that’s one of the many things about the future of education that’s becoming much more interactive. He said 3-D printing as the future of hands-on education once it becomes cheaper and more people realize the benefit.

Constantino said the next step is to purchase a 3-D scanner to complement the printer.