Fossils and chemical dyes add science into Christmas

30 Nov 2016
Prepared 3D Christmas decorations in the School

University of Queensland scientific students and staff are revealing the hidden beauty of microfossils, pollen and chemistry in a festive way, just in time for Christmas. 

PhD student Sarah Kachovich said students in her School were 3D printing the subjects of some research projects as Christmas ornaments for the School’s tree, which they have decorated.

And in the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, scientific officers from SCMB teaching labs decorated the School’s “Chemist-tree”.

“It features a molecular model on top and ornaments of stoppered glass bottles filled with water dyed with red, green, yellow and blue food colourings,” she said. 

Ms Kachovich said in the School, one of the ornaments she made was a diatom, a single-celled organism with a glass skeleton.

“Diatoms are found in lake and marine sediment deposits throughout time,” she said.

“When we find then, we first identify them.

“Then we are able to determine the age and paleoclimates of the sediments that host these fossils.

“These fossils are usually less than a few 10’s of micron in diameter. However, by 3D printing them we are able to turn this unseen world into something that is tactile and tangible.” 

Ms Kachovich said the Christmas tree was a good way to showcase the school’s research in a fun and creative way - especially for projects that dealt with microfossils and pollens normally unable to be displayed to the public.

Chemist-tree in the School of SCMB

Her own PhD study focuses on an ancient type of marine plankton known as radiolarians, which produce intricate mineral skeletons. 

She uses classical and 3D micro-CT technologies to understand skeletal architecture evolution to unlock knowledge about these creatures in the early Palaeozoic era (530-350 million years ago). 

The project had huge potential to resolve many long-standing tectonic problems, she said.

Ms Kachovich will hold eight workshops with high school students before Christmas about “Linking microfossils to tectonics”.

“We will be exploring real data from my latest expedition, from off-shore Sumatra to understand how and why big earthquakes happen,” she said.

“We will also be doing exercises about the recent New Zealand and Japan earthquakes.

“As prizes I plan to give away some of these 3D printed ornaments we create in each cohort.”