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December 2019 in 3D Printing

We begin, this month, with a feature written by Slate. Slate reports on a fascinating topic concerning a 3,000-year-old Egyptian bust of Nefertiti, a handsy German museum, art thieves who turned out to be working for said museum, 3D printed scans, and copyright law.

Buckle up.

Berlin’s Neues Museum is famous for the Nefertiti bust in its collection. Indeed, this bust, which was created all the way back in 1345 B.C., is the museum’s biggest draw. So it came as an intense shock in 2016 when two “artists managed to smuggle an entire 3D scanning rig into the room with the bust and produce a perfect digital replica, which they subsequently shared with the entire world.”

Experts began to doubt this story almost immediately. “After examining the digital file, they concluded that the quality of the scan was simply too high to have been produced by the camera-under-a-trenchcoat operation described by the artists. In fact, they concluded, the scan could only have been produced by someone with prolonged access to the Nefertiti bust itself. In other words, this wasn’t a heist. This was a leak.”

Artist Cosmo Wenman was among these skeptics, so he aimed to get his own copy and make it public. This “kicked off a three-year legal odyssey,” but finally, last month, Wenman “released the files he received from the museum online for anyone to download.”

“The 3D digital version is a perfect replica of the original 3,000-year-old bust, with one exception. The Neues Museum etched a copyright license into the bottom of the bust itself, claiming the authority to restrict how people might use the file. The museum was trying to pretend it owned a copyright in the scan of a 3,000-year-old sculpture created 3,000 miles away.” Absurd, to the highest degree.

The Neues Museum does not have a legal leg to stand on here. The bust should (and is) in the public domain. “The Neues Museum does not have the ability, nor the right, to use a copyright license to prevent commercial uses of the scan.”

“When a large, well-lawyered institution carves legally meaningless lawyer language into the bottom of the scan of a 3,000-year-old bust to suggest some uses are illegitimate, it is getting dangerously close to committing copy fraud—that is, falsely claiming you have a copyright control over a work, which is, in fact, in the public domain.”

This attempt at copy fraud will have real-world consequences. As Slate points out: “these 3D scans could be used by people who want to 3D-print a replica for a classroom, integrate the 3D model into an art piece, or allow people to hold the piece in a virtual reality world. While some of these users may have lawyers to help them understand what the museum’s claims really mean, the majority will see the legal language as a giant ‘keep out’ sign and simply move on to something else.”

Slate claims this behavior by the staff at the Neues Museum “runs counter to the entire mission of museums. Museums do not hold our shared cultural heritage so they can become gatekeepers. They hold our shared cultural heritage as stewards in order to make sure we have access to our collective history. Etching scary legal words in the bottom of a work in your collection in the hopes of scaring people away from engaging with it is the opposite of this sacred mission.”

Elsewhere, The Smithsonian reports on a “promising new technique, which could lead to lasting skin grafts after burns or other injuries.” This new technique involves 3D printed skin which develops working blood vessels.

This technique, which was undertaken at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Yale University, “uses living human skin cells turned into a liquid ‘bio ink.’ The bio ink is used to print artificial skin, which then grows its own blood vessel system.”

As Professor Pankaj Karande of Chemical and Biological Engineering at RPI, who led the research, explains: “the vasculature is very important because this is how the host and the graft talk to each other. Communication between host and graft is critical if the skin substitute is not to be rejected by the body.”

The bio ink Karande’s team is using “contains cells from infant foreskin, human endothelial cells from umbilical cord blood, human endothelial colony forming cells, and human placental pericytes from placenta tissue, which are then all suspended in collagen from rat tails.”

This high tech witch’s brew “forms the inner layer of the skin, the dermis. A second bio ink, made from another type of human foreskin cell, keratinocytes, is printed on top to form the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis. Then, in the petri dish, endothelial cells and the placental pericytes begin to assemble themselves into tiny vascular networks.”

Following all this, “the team implanted the grafts on mice and found the blood vessels connected with the mice’s own vascular networks within four weeks. This means blood flowed between the mice and their skin grafts.” Karande adds: “we see the graft stays there longer, and the skin matures and becomes closer to what we would see in native human tissue.”

Of course, this does not means the team’s grafts are quite ready for human trials just yet. As Karande concludes: “we’re still at the basic research stage. We’re still figuring out basic problems and what the right answers may be.”

Finally, Design Boom reports on Cypriot-based designer Stelios Mousarris, who has recently “used images of terrain taken from Google Earth to create the ‘Plexus Ping Pong Table,’ with a mountain shaped wire base and net. The entire piece is 3D printed.”

This solid steel structure “provides the games table with a stable bottom, which will withstand even the strongest ping pong shots, while forming an intriguing and almost sculptural piece.” Mousarris designed this ping pong table so it “can be easily transformed into a regular table simply by removing the detachable wire print structure serving as the net. With a span of 274 x 152 x 76 cm, this minimal yet complex design provides plenty of table top surface.”

The table features “a solid walnut timber surface, which covers the steel 3D printed structure, creating a striking material contrast to the black metal and resulting in a contemporary and unique furniture piece.”

While this is undoubtedly a fascinating and quite beautiful 3D printed sculpture, we here at Replicator World are forced to wonder where people are supposed to put their legs when using this table as a dining room item, for example.

It is beautiful, but is it functional beyond its initial ping-pong-ing intention?

Tune in next month (next year!) for more 3D printing news!

Image Courtesy of Cosmo Wenman and Slate

Quotes Courtesy of Slate, The Smithsonian, and Design Boom

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