We can 3D print brains!! …novelty paperweight or a tool for scientific communication?

As some of you know, I recently printed a 3D model of my brain. Honestly, I just thought it would be cool, and I have already been doing 3D surface reconstructions for some of my projects.

In tweeting about it, I also found that other neuroscientists — and other people in general — found this really cool. So, I thought others may find it useful if I wrote a guide for how I went from a standard anatomical MRI volume to a 3D model that was print-ready.

An interesting result of this though was seeing how many people found the paper interesting!

While initially I thought the model was more of a fun thing to do, I’ve since used it as a ‘prop’ when giving a talk, and brought it with me when I met with some non-scientist friends. Everyone finds it really interesting and I think it provides a useful medium to help with scientific communication. For people learning neuroanatomy, a 3D model could be helpful in learning about the different gyri and their anatomical boundaries. For others, 3D printing can be a useful way to really visualize inter-individual differences in brain morphology, such as those associated with aging. However, beyond that — a 3D model of a brain could be useful in giving people a real idea of what a brain is shaped like, and begin to feel the fascination with the idea that this organ mediates our ability to think and feel.

This general sentiment, the use of 3D printing for scientific communication has been mirrored by others, some are quoted below.

So, if it’s relevant enough to your work, I implore you to try and 3D print a brain yourself (or anything else!). If you’re not sure about local places to print a 3D model, you may want to check out https://www.3dhubs.com or http://www.shapeways.com.