The Niskin bottle, a seemingly simple device designed to take water samples at discrete depths, is one of the most important tools of oceanography. These precision instruments allow us to bring ocean water back to the surface to study its chemical composition, quality, and biologic constituency. If you want to know how much plastic is circulating in the deep sea, you need a Niskin bottle. If you need to measure chemical-rich plumes in minute detail, you need a Niskin bottle. If you want to use environmental DNA analyses to identify the organisms living in a region of the big blue sea, you need a Niskin bottle.
Niskin bottles are neither cheap nor particularly easy to use. A commercial rosette requires a winch to launch and recover, necessitating both a vessel and a crew to deploy. For informal, unaffiliated, or unfunded researchers, as well as citizen scientists or any researcher working on a tight budget, getting high-quality, discrete water samples is an ongoing challenge.
What makes a good 3D printer for field work? It needs to be reliable, it needs to be durable, it needs to be reasonably portable. It also needs to print good, strong parts with decent resolution. They don’t have to be pretty, but they do have to work.
Last year, if you asked me what the absolute best 3D printer for field work was, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you it’s the Printrbot Simple Metal. This little beast has traveled the world with me, gone to sea, and taken an absolutely massive beating. And it’s still my main workhorse. At $600 plus a lot of custom modifications, it’s still the best deal in terms of quality, cost, and reliability out there.
If you can find one.
Printrbot went out of business last year, due in large part to the proliferation of cheaper machines that have pretty good quality. The company sat in an awkward niche, too expensive for entry-level consumers, not quite up to par for people looking to drop several thousand on a professional machine. As important as it is to me, “can you kick the crap out of it and drop it off a boat?” is not a criteria that rates highly for most people who want a low-cost machine that will sit comfortably on a desk forever.
But that puts me in an tough spot right now. Conservation Tech, especially low-cost, open-source conservation tech, is booming, and we need machines that work in the field on the budget of a conservation biologist. I couldn’t tell you what the best cheap 3D printer on the market is right now for people who need it for field work, travel, or just want a tough machine that works and doesn’t cost much.
So I’m going to buy a bunch, beat them to hell, and figure it out.
The Southern Fried Science Ultimate 3D Printer Review Process
August’s reward is a row from the tooth plate of a spotted eagle ray, Aetobatus narinari! The original specimen is housed at the University of Tennessee fossil collection, and the 3D scan was shared online as part of the FOSSIL project.
I asked University of Florida/Florida Museum Ph.D. student Jeanette Pirlo about the FOSSIL project:
” The FOSSIL Project is an NSF funded project, based out of the University of Florida and the Florida Museum, devoted to cultivating a networked community of practice in which fossil club members and professional paleontologists collaborate in learning the practice of science and outreach. The myFOSSIL.org website is the platform from which our members can collaborate by sharing their fossil finds, curate their personal collections, and participate in ongoing paleontological research” – Jeanette Pirlo
A full set of Spotted Eagle Ray Jaws showing multiple tooth rows fused into a plate, photo by Cathleen Bester courtesy Jeanette Pirlo at the Florida Museum. The specific individual tooth row that was scanned here, photo by Maggie Limbeck, University of Tennessee Masters Candidate. And the 3D printed version
Learn more about the spotted eagle ray and it’s teeth below!
Figure from Whitenack et al. 2011, the sixgill tooth is the one in the lower right! This paper studied teeth of different shapes using Finite Element Analysis (FEA). When Lisa inputs the shape of the tooth, how elastic the tooth is, and how much force the tooth experiences into her computer program, FEA will map out stress on the entire tooth. High points of stress are where a tooth would be likely to break.
Learn more about the bluntnose sixgill shark and it’s unusual shaped teeth below!
This month’s reward is the barb from a Pacific Cownose Ray, Rhinoptera steindachneri. This particular specimen is a part of the Texas A&M University Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collection, and was scanned as part of the #ScanAllFishes project!
I reached out to Heather Prestidge and Kevin Conway, curators of the Texas A&M collection. They told me that this particular specimen was collected in 1993 by John McEachran (author of the multi-volume “fishes of the Gulf of Mexico“) and Janine Caira (now a parasitologist at UConn). It was collected in Baja California, Mexico. Heather was pleased to learn that I was using their specimen for this project, and said “our specimens have an unlimited number of uses even after their primary project!”
Here’s a picture of another specimen of the same species from this collection, you can see why they’re sometimes called “Golden Cownose Rays”.
It comes from Alex Warneke, the Science Education Coordinator of Cabrillo National Monument! “”Using 3D printing technology has not only changed the way we educate the public, but it has broadened our perspective on what is possible in National Parks,” Alex told me. “We have been able to connect students to nature from an entirely different angle and provide them the tools and context they will need to succeed as scientists of the next generation.” This individual horn shark comes from the ichthyology collection at Cabrillo, and has been used for public education as well as research. The egg case is one of many that wash up on California beaches.
The original horn shark specimen and the 3D model of it, courtesy Alex Warneke, Cabrillo National Monument
Learn more about horn sharks and their egg cases below!
The first month’s reward comes from one of the most (in)famous sharks of all time, Carcharocles megalodon! The first 3D printed Patreon reward is a meg tooth, an exact copy of the meg tooth that has been used to educate thousands of students at UBC’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum!
The original tooth
Here are some things to know about Carcharocles megalodon!
Want to support public education about sharks and rays while getting some one-of-a-kind elasmoswag? Sign up for my latest tier of Patreon rewards! Each month, you’ll receive a 3D printed educational model highlighting various aspects of shark and ray biology in the mail. These models will include:
Components of shark jaws
Skulls and brains
All models are 3D printed copies of real biological specimens used by scientists or educators somewhere in the world, and in every case I’ll share the story of the individual object involved! Some models I’ll scan myself from museum and teaching collections, and others I’ll get from colleagues. The approximate size is shown below- typically, depending on shape, they’re about 2-3 inches long.
For each monthly model, I’ll also create and share a blog post highlighting science associated with that object! These blog posts will link to scientific articles and media coverage about related issues, and will include interviews with scientists involved in those discoveries. Anyone, not just people who receive these objects as a Patreon reward, will be able to see these blog posts and learn from them.
Best of all, your support allows me to create these models and distribute them to schools free of charge! Every sponsored school science classroom will not only get free models, but a chance to Skype with me.
This rewards tier is $17 per month, and is only available to US residents. For now, it is limited to 20 people.
Despite the fact that we live in extremely dangerous times, the scientists in charge of the clock said there is hope. The clock has been wound backwards before, in the wake of the Cold War or during times when nuclear superpowers expressed interest in not mutually assuring destruction.
The scientists argue that civil society should turn the screws on government to reduce carbon emissions and push for even more ambitious climate action than what the Paris Agreement calls for. That sounds like a more fruitful plan than huddling in a bunker.