For the past week Brett and I have been in Seattle attending the 2017 meeting of the Geological Society of America, where we were presenting on the “Stepping out of the Past” and “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibits. The meeting ended Wednesday night, and we’re now taking a short vacation to see geological sites in the northwest. But today things took a slight detour.
While at the conference, we ran into an old friend, Patty Weston. Patty, Brett, and I were all geology majors together at Carleton College, but I had last seen her when Brett and I got married 23 years ago (although we still corresponding Facebook). She now teaches science at Mercer Island High School outside Seattle. One evening at the conference as we were discussing plans we realized that today on our way to some geological sites we would be driving within a few minutes of her school, so she invited us to stop by and talk to her class about mastodons. We said we’d love to, but since we were on vacation I didn’t have any of the cast teeth or other props I’d usually use to give such a talk. Then it occurred to me: during the “Valley of the Mastodons” Symposium Bernard Means from the Virtual Curation Laboratory scanned a bunch of our mastodon teeth. So I showed Patty the files and told her that, if the school has access to a 3D printer, they could print one of the teeth and I could talk about that on Friday. And so it happened that this morning I was talked to a group of 9th graders in Washington about a tooth from my museum in California, using a 3D file produced by a lab in Virginia and printed out 12 hours earlier.
The tooth they printed, seen at the top and below, with Max, is an unerupted upper 4th premolar and the posterior part of the 3rd premolar from Diamond Valley Lake. This is the youngest mastodon (in terms of the animal’s age at death) in the WSC collection; we estimate it was between 2 and 6 months old when it died. The original specimen is currently on display in the “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibit.
In the last 2 months WSC has jumped into 3D technology in a big way, recently installing our first printer and with more equipment to come. Today’s visit really made clearer to me the power this technology offers. Thanks to Patty Weston and Mercer Island High School for making this happen, and of course to Bernard and our Science Under the Stars donors who have made this available to WSC.