Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia have used 3D printing technology to create larger-than-life replicas of tiny insects.
Some of the bugs they printed are so small they can't be seen with the naked eye, so the team scanned, enlarged and printed models big enough to view.
The bugs were originally intended for an art exhibit but the project turned out so well the team now believes there may be scientific reasons to keep on printing them. The 3D models could eventually be used to identify gender and other surface characteristics of the miniscule bugs.
"We combined science and art to engage the public and through the process we've discovered that 3D printing could be the way of the future for studying these creatures," said CSIRO Science Art Fellow Eleanor Gates-Stuart.
CSIRO's additive manufacturing facility, Lab 22, is normally used for making automotive, aerospace and defense parts for the Australian military. The Arcam 3D printer they are using can produce up to twelve bugs at a time and each build session lasts about ten hours.
"Giant bug production is not necessarily where we saw ourselves going, however, this project is exciting because it brings together two key areas of science - manufacturing and entomology," said Chad Henry, CSIRO's Additive Manufacturing Operations Manager.
The CSIRO team borrowed the bugs from Canberra's Australian National Insect Collection. In the coming months researchers will be taking detailed 3D scans and producing enlarged replicas for scientific use.