Geologists develop app to print 3-D terrain models of any place on Earth

Students can read all they want about geological folds, axial planes, hinge lines, antiform synclines and synform anticlines. But it can still be a challenge to visualise just what geologists are talking about. A better option is putting boots on the ground — such as a trip to Iowa State University’s Carl F. Vondra Geology Field Station near Shell, Wyoming. The field station is in the north-central part of the state, on the western flank of the Bighorn Mountains. Nearby is Sheep Mountain, a well-known and typical anticline.

The Bighorn River has cut a canyon through the mountain and students can hike along the river to get a good look at a natural cross section of the exposed geological fold.
The web application is open source and free for private use through Iowa State’s GeoFabLab. It allows anybody with a 3-D printer to easily and quickly print terrain models of any place on the planet, including the ocean floor.
The Touch Terrain development team includes Harding, with expertise in geographic information systems; Hasiuk, with expertise in 3-D printing of geological samples; Alex Renner, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering with expertise in simulations for 3-D printing; and Levi Baber, a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences information technology manager with expertise in server technology.
“You can’t buy this anywhere,” he said. “No one would ever make a terrain model of central Iowa, but this is very useful if you want to talk about your environment.”