Prototyping project throws young minds a bone

A unique partnership of diverse departments, laboratories, and staff is producing an education and research opportunity for the ages at The University of Iowa.

Since 2003, the UI Museum of Natural History, the Department of Geoscience, and the Office of the State Archaeologist, with the support of the National Science Foundation, have led students, staff, and volunteers in excavating and preserving the bones of four giant Ice Age sloths discovered near Shenandoah, Iowa. One of the rarest and most mysterious of all Ice Age–extinct mammals, the fossils are too valuable to pass around to schoolchildren, and too fragile to duplicate using conventional casting techniques. But collaborative efforts at the University are yielding exact replicas that can be examined by students of all ages.

Using the facilities and staff of the Iowa Comprehensive Lung Imaging Center (I-CLIC), including one of the world’s most advanced high-speed computed tomography (CT) machines, and the rapid prototyping facilities of the College of Engineering, the museum’s sloth team is duplicating select bones…some still embedded in their original clay matrix. The team also is able to fabricate missing elements by manipulating the digital files. A traveling trunk of replica bones should be available for teachers and nature centers statewide in 2012.

Click the thumbnails below for a closer look at the Tarkio Valley Sloth Prototyping Project.