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Loughborough University’s 3D printing technology breathes new life into Richard III

Laser sintering was used to create the replica.

Loughborough’s world-leading expertise in 3D printing has been used by the University of Leicester to breathe new life into the remains of King Richard III – creating a replica of his skeleton.

Leicester announced today (Monday February 4) that the skeleton found last year in the city by its team of archaeologists is that of Richard III, whose final resting place remained hidden for hundreds of years.

In 1485 the King was defeated at the battle of Bosworth.  His body, stripped and despoiled, was brought to Leicester where he was buried in the church of the Franciscan Friary, known as the Grey Friars. Over time the exact whereabouts of the Grey Friars became lost.

Following extensive research by the University of Leicester, in partnership with Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society, archaeologists were able to locate the former Grey Friars site and unearth the slain King’s remains.

Experts from Loughborough’s School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering were invited to make a replica of the king’s skeleton, using the latest 3D printing techniques.

Scans of the actual remains taken by the Leicester Royal Infirmary were sent to Loughborough, where they were transformed into a 3D computer model.  Laser sintering was then used to create a physical replica of the skeleton.  Laser sintering is a technique that uses a high power laser to fuse small particles of materials, in this case plastic, into a mass that has a three-dimensional shape.

Professor Russell Harris – head of the University’s Additive Manufacturing Research Group – who led Loughborough’s involvement in the project, said: “Generating the first 3D computer models was a very exciting moment.  And later seeing the skull of Richard III emerge from the powder of the laser sintering machine in physical form was incredible.

“It was quite clear to see a number of the significant injuries that he had sustained in battle, and at last the greater story of how the King met his death can be told.  Recording various aspects of the remains, in both electronic and physical form, will be invaluable for future studies.

“Our 3D printing and additive manufacturing activities span a great number of disciplines but this was an exceptionally rewarding case to be involved in.  Working with Leicester on this incredible discovery has been a privilege, and it is great that two neighbouring universities have been able to share expertise to create a lasting legacy to Richard III.”

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