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Revealing the Beauty of the Microscopic World Through 3D Printing


Dr. Mike

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There is tremendous beauty and diversity in nature that goes unnoticed by humans because it is simply too small for us to see and appreciate. Embodi3D member Michael Holland hopes to change that. Via his eponymous company Michael Holland Productions, he has created a fascinating traveling museum exhibit called MacroMicro that reveals the striking complexity and beauty of the microscopic world through high-resolution micro-CT scanning and 3D printing.

On the remote island of Iriomote-jima, part of the Okinawa Islands of southern Japan, beautiful white sand beaches can be found. Closer inspection of the sand reveals that each grain has a star-shaped appearance. These white sand grains are primarily the skeletons of Baculogypsina sphaerulata, tiny marine organisms that produce an intricately detailed star-shaped calcium carbonate shell. These beautifully complex structures go completely unnoticed by the average beachgoer. But through use of high-definition microscopic CT scanning and 3D printing, these sand-like shells, when enlarged as big as a dinner plate, come alive.

Star Sand

Star sand

The Humboldt squid, also known as jumbo squid, is a large squid with a mantle length that reaches up to 1.5 meters in length. Living in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the coasts of North and South America, these predatory invertebrates entrap their prey with tentacles that bear up to 200 suckers each. These predators have a devious secret. Within each sucker is a ring filled with serrated dagger-like spines. Once enveloped by the tentacles, hundreds of suckers attach to the helpless prey, and thousands of these tiny dagger-like structures penetrate it, ensuring that even the slipperiest of prey meets its inevitable doom. Enlarged to the size of a basketball and 3D printed (lead image, shown above), once can see how nasty this adaptation truly is.

Everything we hear -- beautiful music, the rustling of leaves, a loved one's laughter -- is made possible by the incus, malleus, and stapes. These three tiny bones are the smallest in the human body and form the basis of the middle ear, without which human hearing would not be possible. Noise around us causes our tympanic membrane, or eardrum, to vibrate. But how are these vibrations transmitted to our brains where we process sound information? This is where the incus, malleus, and stapes come in. Attached to the inner surface of the eardrum, these bones form a chain that transmits the vibratory motion to the inner ear. There, tiny hairs are disturbed, which sends an impulse through the auditory nerve to the brain, which we interpret as sound. Everything we hear is transmitted as vibrations through these three tiny bones, called the auditory ossicles. In Latin, the malleus, incus, and stapes mean the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, respectively. When enlarged to the size of a real hammer through 3D printing, you can see how these tiny bones got their names.

Ossicles

auditory ossicles of the ear

The innocuous Townsend's mole, Scapanus townsendii, is commonly found in the moist soils of the Northwestern North American coastline. It's short and stubby arms are perfectly designed for digging, a fortunate thing as it spends most of its time searching for earthworms and other food in shallow burrows. However, when its small size is accounted for, the mole's arms are massively powerful. Click on the video link below to hear Michael talk about this small furry Hercules and how its secrets are revealed through 3D printing.

 

The Townsend's mole

Through his MacroMicro exhibit and 3D printing, Michael is bringing the striking beauty of the microscopic world to us. Look for his MacroMicro exhibit in a museum near you beginning in 2016.

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The MacroMicro exhibit

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