This year, he’s helping us 3D print some of our artefacts and send them to Venturers straight from the trench. To get to grips with the man behind this incredible technology, we asked Nik to pick out some of his favourite objects, before finally choosing just one that he’d take with him to a desert island…
One of the most exciting toys I got as a child was a toy typewriter. I remember being totally overwhelmed by the possibilities – now I could be a publisher of anything! Of course, its quality was similar to my creative writing skills, and the toy soon broke. Born in Athens, I took ancient ruins for granted and it wasn’t until I was a teenager that a young archaeologist sparked my interest in archaeology. I can still picture the calm focus on her face as she recorded some discoveries on an excavation in the city centre and that’s when I knew – one day, I too would be an archaeologist!
My very first job as an archaeologist was analysing metal slags at the National Center for Scientific Research in Athens. Slags are the glass-like by-products left over from making metal and look more like a meteorite’s fragment then a specimen of cultural heritage! It taught me a lot about the importance of the material evidence archaeology reveals to us. With the right approach, this amorphous lump can help us re-learn long-lost metal-making practices, ancient trade routes and much, much more.
The first object I tried to 3D print was a skull with some very significant anomalies at the University of Athens. I was invited to try and digitalise it for training students, but this one was so complex, we were never able to complete the physical replica in the end! It’s a useful reminder that 3D printing contains many complex engineering problems. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not a press-and-go technology!
There are many artefacts worth making tangible again and this is definitely one of them. In fact, the ongoing effort to reconstruct the Buddhas of Bamiyan from old photographs is one of the most ambitious of its kind that I have seen. As technology advances, it will be increasingly possible not just to reproduce, but also to resurrect, our cultural heritage in contradiction to their destroyers, whether those destroyers be natural disasters or people.
There’s no question about it. If I was to be dumped on a desert island, the one object I’d want to bring is this solar-powered 3D printer. All it needs is sunlight and sand and with it you can print any object or building material imaginable! It’s currently being trialled for use on Mars. At the moment, we’re just sitting on the tip of the iceberg in terms of what 3D printing can offer, not just to the past, but also to future missions on far away planets that are much more deserted than my little island!
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