Today@Sam Article

Center Recreates Rare Dinosaur

Dec. 19, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Joseph Atkins

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To David Temple, associate curator of paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences (HMNS), the process of 3D printing and its ability to create or replicate something from scratch is nothing short of awe-inspiring. In fact, he went as far as to describe it as a religious experience.

“There are zeroes and ones and you are able to convert them into whatever you want or create a copy of something else,” Temple said while discussing a 3D printed replica of a Velociraptor produced at Sam Houston State University, College of Business Administration’s Center for Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneurship (CITE). “That, to me, is almost a miraculous process.”

To CITE co-director Pamela Zelbst, Juan Diego Daza of the Biological Science Department and their students, the process is more technical. Last spring, Temple brought two specimens from HMNS to CITE, including a fossil snake from the Middle Eocene Epoch found in the Green River Lagerstätte in Wyoming and the skull of a complete fossil amphibian with a boomerang-shaped head from the Permian of North America.

SHSU students Isabella Estrada, Katrina Santos, Kelly Castillo and Audrey Haddad scanned these items with a FARO industrial ScanArm before using the CITE’s state-of-the-art 3D printer to recreate the specimens within two one hundredths of a centimeter.

“My students get the experience of doing something they wouldn’t normally get to do, and they learned so much from it,” Zelbst said. “They learned a lot about positioning in 3D printing, materials and what you want to use in terms of temperatures on other projects. They can apply that knowledge and see how it works in the real world because 3D printing and scanning are now true manufacturing methodologies.”

These projects, which also involved Hussam Zaher from the museum and Universidad de São Paulo, was such a success that Temple began to wonder if they could scan and print something bigger. Specifically, he wanted them to reproduce a digital model of a Velociraptor.

“I have gone and talked with a lot of people at other universities in this area, SHSU has the best equipment and an amazing program,” Temple said. “I think scanning and printing has really democratized a lot of science. Some of these specimens that are unbelievably hard to get, and may be illegal to own, can be obtained by pretty much anybody.”

The Velociraptor lived 75 million years ago in what is today part of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. It is one of the most famous genus of dinosaur, thanks in large part to its role in the Jurassic Park movie franchise. The films, however, have portrayed velociraptors to be about twice as big as they actually were. They were similar in size to Utharaptor, who was discovered soon after the first movie was release and is frequently referred to as Stephen Spielberg’s raptor. In reality, Velociraptor was roughly the size of a large turkey.

Anatomically, velociraptors featured recurved claws, tendons that stiffened the tail and likely assisted them while attacking prey. Like the herbivore Protoceratops, who they have been found with, Velociraptor fossilized in a combat position.

Once the files of the skeleton were shared online, the process was relatively simple. After approximately 200 hours, all the bones were printed, and the disarticulated specimen was transported to the museum to be assembled. It will be permanently displayed in the fossil preparation lab, part of the Morian Hall of Paleontology.

Along with recreating models, the technology can also help fix and complete fossil sets that were partially destroyed.

“In the past, we have mostly relied on sculptors and artists to make reconstructions,” Daza said. “But now you can do it with computer software. If part of a fossil is missing or crushed, you can fix it and make it more natural by using computer 3D software.”

These collaborations are just beginning. Temple was enthusiastic in his willingness to continue his relationship with SHSU in reconstructing more dinosaur specimens as well as other areas of study, such as archeological remains in Egypt, if possible.

There have already been discussions regarding the digital recreation of a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops.

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