Each year Swansea University hosts a Research as Art competition. This year's winner, Laura North, created a comic strip. It wasn't an ordinary superheroes-and-villains comic though. Instead, it described how North used an x-ray scanner to look inside a chocolate egg which contained a small toy. She then used a 3D printer to recreate the toy, without ever opening the egg.

The egg in question was a Kinder Surprise Egg. The brand is popular in Wales, where Swansea University is located.  Each chocolate egg contains a small toy and children try to collect the toys to complete a set. The eggs are not allowed to be distributed in the United States because FDA regulations prevent the sale of food products that contain non-food items.

North called her idea "Project Surprise" and used her comic book to show off the process. She began by using an X-ray micro-CT scanner to look inside the egg, effectively removing the "surprise" factor. Then she used VGStudio to reconstruct the data from the scan into something printable. Finally, North used a Makerbot 3D printer to build an exact copy of the toy.

"It may seem silly and insignificant to wish to replicate a toy from inside a Kinder Surprise without damaging the egg at all." North said. "However, the concept has many other exciting and broad applications. These range from collaborating with the Egyptology department in identifying and reproducing mummified snake remains, to the concept being utilized in modern medicine, with perfectly fitting joint replacements."

In fact, similar technology is already being used to replicate the skeletons of living rats and even to produce accurate 3D models of unborn children.

You can view a Swansea scan of the Kinder Surprise Egg here: