Science (Washington, D.C., April 17) - 3D printing is also allowing scientists to create models at a much finer scale, says ornithologist Mark Hauber at the University of Illinois in Urbana. Hauber studies a behavior known as brood parasitism, in which birds lay eggs in the nests of other species, leaving the unwitting foster parents to rear their chicks. Previously, researchers studied host birds’ reactions by placing plaster and wood models of parasitic eggs in their nests. But using 3D printing, Hauber’s team created far more realistic looking cowbird eggs, which allowed his team to examine whether variations of just a few millimeters in size influenced robins’ decisions to throw the parasitic eggs out of their nests.
Using these new models also means people can easily replicate experiments, Hauber says. He has made the digital models of his eggs freely available online, so anyone can print off their own copy and reproduce the research.