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Mohawk researchers print replica of ancient vase

Professors spearhead project to try to fix broken Neolithic Jomon vase.

The clay artifact dates back to 4,000 BCE and was recreated with a 3-D printer

Researchers at Mohawk College in Hamilton have used a CT scanner and 3D printing technology to reproduce an ancient Neolithic Jomon vase. The original vase is seen on the day it was scanned in the picture on the left, while the plastic replica is on the right. (Mohawk College)

Researchers at Mohawk College have used 3D printing technology to recreate an ancient Neolithic Jomon vase that you can touch and, if the whim strikes you, throw around the room.

While the project was conceived as a one-time effort when the opportunity presented itself, the success has the professors thinking about other possible re-creations that could enhance museum experiences and education. 

We've hardly started to explore all the opportunities.-  Robert Gerritsen, co-ordinator , Mohawk' College Additive Manufacturing Resource Centre.

The clay artifact, which dates back to 4,000 BCE, was sitting in collector James Koyanag's Burlington, Ont., garden when he noticed a piece was missing. He took it to pottery expert Reid Flock at Mohawk College to see if Flock could fix it.

From there, Flock started talking to Robert Gerritsen, a mechanical engineering professor and the co-ordinator and lead faculty researcher at Mohawk's Additive Manufacturing Resource Centre.

Gerritsen said the centre mostly uses 3D scanning and printing technology to recreate industrial and medical equipment parts, so recreating the vase was "a bit beyond what we were typically working on."

While the centre has scanners, Gerritsen said they learned from engineering technology dean Tony Thoma that the Mississauga Hospital had just recently had a new state-of-the-art CT scanner installed. So much like a patient would have a scan, the researchers, which included two students, put the vase into the scanner to create a digital copy of the vase.

Neolithic or Nylon?

Gerritsen, who held the original vase, said the printed version made from a plastic called Nylon 12, is almost identical.

"Blindfolded, you'd be tough to tell which one you held," he said.

Before creating the final replica that was unveiled by the school on Tuesday, Gerritsen said they produced a sample and admitted they "dropped that thing on the floor a few times" and watched it bounce.

The project was a joint endeavour by Trilliam Health Partners – Mississauga Hospital, Siemens Healthcare and Mohawk College.

Koyanag, who spent 10 years in Japan and collected pottery, said he saw an early version of the replica that was all white. He hopes they will be able to print a piece to fix his broken vase.

He said when Flock told him the plans to use a CT scanner, he had no idea what it would mean, but he joked, "Just don't send me the bill."

Just a beginning 

Gerritsen said the vase project could be just the beginning of research into artifacts.

"We've hardly started to explore all the opportunities," he said, adding recreating ancient pieces could enhance visitor experiences at places like museums, letting children pick up and hold what is normally kept safely behind glass.

"Perhaps we can do this with fossils," he said. "It's definitely an area we want to explore further."

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