Digital Union 3-D Printing Enables Forensic Reconstruction

Since its inception in 2015, the Digital Union free 3-D printing program has helped bring hundreds of student and faculty designs to life. They have printed a whole host of items; from academic projects, to teaching models, and now a skull to aid an active missing persons investigation.

The Digital Union 3-D printing program has partnered with the Attorney General's Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) to assist in identifying a Jane Doe whose skeletal remains were found in Greene County earlier this year. Both the Greene County Sheriff's Office and BCI Missing Persons Unit exhausted all resources in trying to determine the woman's identity before turning to the facial reconstruction process. 

The process of facial reconstruction has stayed much the same over the past century. It is accomplished by building a clay model atop the skull of the victim and using skeletal clues to infer musculature and facial specificity. This reconstruction is then used to help the public identify the victim and hopefully bring closure to the case. In an effort to reconstruct the face of the Greene county woman, forensic artist Samantha Molnar contacted the Digital Union in hopes of using 3-D printing to replicate the skull.

“In the past, facial reconstructions were completed on the actual skull,” said Molnar. “The process by which the skulls were bleached and manipulated meant that DNA and dental evidence could be lost. The remains are considered evidence and we are sensitive to handling or building upon them because they were part of a living person at one time. 3-D printing is a great tool for reconstruction because it preserves the original skull while still providing the form I need to complete an accurate reconstruction.”

To create the print, Molnar worked with Digital Union student employee Jay Young.  The skull is identical to the original and took upwards of fifty hours to print.  

“My role in the project was to create 3-D models from the CT scans of the skull. I then optimized those models for printing by removing all the unnecessary bits of geometry that were created by the CT scan” said Young of the printing process. “From there I just hit the button on the maker bot and let the printers do their work. The work required for this project was equal parts art and science which made it so interesting to be a part of. I am just humbled to be a small cog in a larger machine working to do something good.”

After printing, forensic artist Samantha Molnar spent roughly sixty hours building the clay model atop the printed skull. This process can be viewed in a time-lapse video created by the BCI.

The model of the Greene County woman has now been shared publicly in hopes that it can lead to an identification and answers for the loved ones of the victim.

“We are happy to have been able to assist in the facial reconstruction and look forward to providing printing for the BCI in the future” said Digital Union Manager Queenie Chow. “This is a wonderful example of the versatility of 3-D printing and the opportunities created by the technology”

Learn more about the Greene county missing persons investigation and contact the Greene County Sheriff's Office* if you see a resemblance to a missing friend or relative.

To create your own 3-D prints with the Digital Union Makerbot, submit an entry online. Learn more about the process and requirements on the 3-D printing resource page.

Video Credit: Office of the Ohio Attourney General (BCI)

*Contact the Green County Sherriff’s Office at 937-376-5111 or BCI's Missing Persons Unit at 855-BCI-OHIO (855-224-6446).