Tetralogy of Fallot

Recently I was moved to help create a model for a fellow Tweeter who had a newborn boy with the rare congenital cardiac abnormality known as Tetralogy of Fallot. He was born at 39 weeks, with the diagnosis made in utero, and the parents were facing unprecedented healthcare bills due to the US insurance system. 

I asked for the CT scans to be sent over, and set to work on creating this model. 

The paediatric heart is about 4cm at it's widest point, with tributary vessels only a millimetre or so. Getting good quality CT data with contrast within the arteries is an incredible technical feat. The newborn must be sedated and the airway intubated in order to be scanned. The scan must be performed perfectly, timed to the racing heart beat, using minimal radiation to avoid any damage to the surrounding sensitive newborn organs.

The images from the scan were of sufficient quality to produce this exquisitely accurate model, the first of it's kind as far as I am aware. The model is a 3D visualisation of the blood within the cardiac chambers and vessels of this tiny but vital organ in a newborn.

It allows the viewer to examine the four key traits of Tetralogy of Fallot: A right-sided aortic arch, pulmonary stenosis, right venticular hypertrophy, and a ventricular septal defect. The model also demonstrates the withered ductus arteriosus, known as the ligamentum arteriosum.

I also created a 3D-printable version of this model (non-profit, charges are for materials and delivery only). Due to the technical specifications of 3D printing the smaller tributary arteries and vessels cannot be printed, as they are too fragile to be supported. The printed model can be held in your palm, and demonstrates the key traits of this congenital condition. 


Thankfully, a central shunt has been placed surgically, and I am told the little boy is doing well. He is expecting definitve surgery in the next 6 months.

My thanks and best wishes go out to his parents, and I wish them and their son all the best for the future.

Carpal bones

The carpal bones are a set of intricately interacting bones in the wrist which allow complex wrist motion. Segementing each one accurately allows wrist surgeons and patients to understand these delicate interactions involved in everyday movements.


By taking ultra-thin CT slice data at a resolution of 0.6mm it was possible to recreate this complex acetabular fracture, and provide orthopaedic surgeons with a life-size model to plan their intervention. 


I announced earlier that I'd be using my I'm A Scientist prize fund to donate a 3D printer to a local school, and the response so far has been really positive. I got in contact with the super generous team at Ultimaker who loved the idea and offered to help part-fund the project. In fact, they were so keen to help they even offered a free one month loan printer as a second place prize for another school! Ultimaker run a fantastic education programme based around 3D printing, and I'm very happy to be partnering with them to help provide a school with a brilliant 3D printing educational package.

On top of this, the talented 3D modeller and designer Brian Richardson heard about the competition and offered the winning school one of his gorgeous models for free, to get the kids inspired!

Six schools responded to the STEMSussex call for entries, with each school submitting a short statement as to why they deserved a free 3D printer. I read and re-read them, and took the bank holiday weekend to decide....all schools were of course worthy and put across a great statement, but in the end there can only be one winner!

The winner - announced earlier on Twitter - is Longhill High School. Head of Technology, Mr Matthews wrote a wonderful statement detailing his own experience with 3D modelling and printing, and his plans to get the kids creating a start-up business designing and selling models such as iPhone cases and jewellery, with profits being reinvested to purchase the raw materials needed to create more prints. Longhill High School has a large proportion of students from underprivileged backgrounds who don't often chose STEM careers so it is an absolute pleasure to be working with them and donating a free 3D printer. I am really looking forward to visiting the school as a STEM ambassador and helping set-up the printer and the 3D printing club. Who knows - we might find the next 3D printing genius!

A valiant effort by Cardinal Newman Catholic School earned them the second prize of a 3D printer on loan for one month. They'll get to try out what the printer can do, as well as benefit from all the educational support from UltimakerCREATE that's on offer. Mrs Stone, their Head of Technology, wrote of the sheer excitement the pupils had of watching Youtube videos about 3D printers, so I can only imagine what the kids reaction will be once they get their hands on one in the classroom!

My thanks goes out to Daniel Hawkins at STEMSussex who helped organise this competition.

Keep posted here or follow me on Twitter to find out what happens when the schools get their printers!


PS: There's always room for more money in the prize fund - so if you're feeling generous you can help get a better spec model for the winning school. Come on, it's for the kids!

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I recently took part in an online X-factor style STEM event sponsored by the Wellcome Trust called I'm A Scientist: Get Me Out of Here which is aimed at getting more school children interested in science as a career.

The event took place over 2 weeks in March, and involved thousands of school children asking questions via live online chats and message boards. They could ask anything about science, from the existence of aliens, to the big question - is the dress really blue/black?

I took part in the Light Zone, sponsored by the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), which involved 5 scientists who work with the electromagnetic spectrum from lasers to X-rays. The children were able to post questions to the scientists and vote, with daily evictions adding to the excitement. After 2 weeks the votes were counted and I came out on top, and received a £500 prize fund to put towards further outreach work!

As part of my role as a STEM ambassador in Sussex I aim to put the money towards buying a 3D printer for a local school, and setting up a 3D printing club for the children. This is a great opportunity to spread awareness and experience of 3D printing to school children - something which I hope will encourage them to take up science careers.

£500 isn't quite enough to get a 3D printer so I am appealing to generous 3D printing companies in the UK to see if they would like to help top up the fund, or maybe help supply some software and or expertise in getting the project up and running. In the meantime a call has gone out to all schools who take part in STEMnet projects in Sussex for them to tell me why they deserve the 3D printer - and a decision will be made in early May.

You can follow me on Twitter to see how the project comes along!

3D printing the perfect knee

Conformis is a company which boasts fellow radiologist Prof Philip Lang as CEO. They offer bespoke knee replacements based on individual patient anatomy recreated from CT data. 

What excites me is not only the revolutionary methodology and surgical approach, but the thought that this technology can now be applied across a whole range of body parts... we just need to start pushing the boundaries even further.

Also useful for fellow anatomical modelling enthusiasts is the company's CT protocols. Here you'll find exact instructions on how to obtain the perfect data set for virtual modelling of bony anatomy.

Mythic Articulations

I love the grey region between science and art, that meeting point of cutting edge technology and artistic creativity. Perhaps this is best embodied by Brian Richardson, an artist and designer from New York. While I was searching for anatomical models online I came across these beautifully bizarre skeletons of mythical creatures. Ranging from the humanoid Fairy Skeleton to the outrageously titled Mongolian Death Worm

Below is my favourite model - El Chupacabra. The Chupacabra is a mythical creature found in the southern U.S. and throughout Central America. It is said to feed on goats, similar to a vampire bat. 

He is also an accomplished graphic artist, and his pseudo-anatomical prints are also gorgeous. Check out this anatomical squirrel skull  - such lovely details! This is part of his collection of animal skulls.

Xenograft transplants brought to life

While research is fully underway to prove the theory of 3D printable functional human tissues, artist Agi Haines has produced some phenomenal 'life-like' pseudo-organs. Each one is an amalgamation of human and animal cell types, designed with enabling the recipient with traits from the natural world via xenograft transplantation. 'Electrostabilis Cardium' is designed to keep the heart running, like an organic pacemaker, by using tissue characteristics from an electric eel. The model comes with a short but incredibly vivid video (above) depicting what it could be like using one in surgery for transplantation. 

Other nightmare-inducing models include 'Cerebrothrombal Dilutus' (below), an in-built anti-clotting organ, and 'Tremomucosa Expulsum' which utilises the structure of a human bronchus and the contractility of rattlesnake tissue to allow patients with chronic mucus plugging to clear their throats more effectively upwards to the mouth, or downwards to the digestive system.

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