ZPrinting Helps Lab Identify POW/MIA Remains

3D Physical Models of Human Skulls Enable Refinement of Image-Matching Techniques


BURLINGTON, Mass., USA, Sept. 15, 2010 – The largest forensic anthropology laboratory in the world is using Z Corporation 3D printing technology to help identify POW/MIA remains so they can be returned to their families and rest in peace.

The Central Identification Laboratory of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command ( JPAC) is printing 3D models of skulls from the CT scans of living people to refine forensics techniques for identifying remains from the Korean War and other conflicts. The techniques are used in support of traditional identification techniques such as dental records, fingerprints, X-rays and biological profile comparisons. This work promises to lead to more events like JPAC’s recent positive identification of a Korean War soldier killed in 1950.

“Our work is terribly important to history and to the loved ones of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Audrey Meehan, DNA specialist and project leader for the lab. “We needed a 3D printer for preserving historic artifacts and for printing models of trauma to be used as teaching exemplars, yet it has opened up a world of valuable clinical and research applications.”

The forensic work, using a ZPrinter® multicolor printer, is the cornerstone of a project to prove the effectiveness and set the protocol for skull photographic superimposition. The procedure involves superimposing images of unidentified skulls onto photographs of known soldiers to gauge potential matches. It is especially helpful in cases where DNA is not available. JPAC is the only laboratory in the world engaged in this project, and its work with ZPrinting will make the technique available to any qualified, trained investigator. The ZPrinter’s uncompromising accuracy is vital to this highly detailed work, with a “t-test” finding no statistically significant difference between measurements of a skull and its ZPrinted model.

“We used to send out for models that cost a fortune and looked terrible,” said Meehan. “By ZPrinting them ourselves, we’re getting a better product and saving time and taxpayer money.”

Neurosurgery and preservation


The laboratory has other, equally important applications for ZPrinting, such as helping patients at the nearby Tripler Army Medical Center. JPAC is ZPrinting skull and vertebrae models of neurosurgery patients from their CT scans. These accurate medical models enable doctors to better visualize and plan their procedures, meaning quicker procedures, fewer surprises and better outcomes. Patients have included an infant who needed significant plastic surgery due to a birth defect and an adult who needed a growth removed. In a related application, doctors are using a 3D printed skull to test tumor detection equipment.

JPAC has also used the ZPrinter in the preservation of battle scenes. The lab has reproduced a jawbone from the crew of the Confederate naval ship CSS Alabama. The mandible had been fused to a cannon on the ocean floor and, after scanning, was ZPrinted. Although the remains were buried in an official ceremony as the last unknown Confederate soldier, JPAC has the reproduced model for its historical collection. JPAC also ZPrinted the skulls and hip bones of servicemen who died in the sinking of the USS Monitor in 1862. Those ZPrints are on display at The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Va.


About Z Corporation

Z Corporation 3D technologies help product designers, engineers and architects create the right designs the first time. Professionals use ZPrinter 3D printers, ZBuilder rapid prototyping machines and ZScanner® 3D laser scanners to compress the design cycle, generate new concepts, communicate clearly, foster collaboration, and reduce errors. These solutions span the entire 3D CAD/BIM design process from concept through design verification. For more information, visit www.zcorp.com.

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